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Ohio Strippers protest Vote in the House to Ban No-Touching, Full Nudity after 12 AM

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A group of strippers fighting a bill they say would set the stage for unconstitutional crackdowns on their industry across the country held up a banner from the Ohio House balcony Wednesday before lawmakers approved a plan to ban patrons from touching dancers.

In a free speech protest, the group of about 50 strippers dubbed Dancers for Democracy draped over the railing a sign that said, “Talk is cheap. Speech is priceless.”

Lawmakers clapped for the dancers when they were recognized as guests in the chamber.

They then voted 73-24 in favor of the bill backed by a conservative Christian group Citizens for Community Values, which also spearheaded Ohio’s 2004 gay marriage ban.

The dancers’ banner was later confiscated by security officials because political opinion displays are not allowed in the chamber.

Besides the no-touching rule, full nudity would be barred at clubs after midnight, under the legislation approved by the GOP-controlled House.

The rules were a compromise with Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, which has sought stricter regulations, including a ban on all exotic dancing past midnight and a 6-foot distance between strippers and customers.

Owners of adult clubs did not take issue Wednesday with restrictions on touching dancers in certain anatomical areas, but they said they continued to oppose the bill’s penalties for casual touching of clothed dancers and for the economic damage they believe restrictions would cause for their industry.

Democratic Rep. Chris Redfern, of Catawba Island, suggested that Republicans were moving the proposal to avoid campaign attacks they might face from Citizens for Community Values.

House Speaker Jon Husted, a Kettering Republican, rejected the notion.

“You might find this hard to believe,” he told reporters. “I have not one time in my life ever spoken to (CCV President) Phil Burress.”

Rep. Robert Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, called the bill absolutely absurd because it involved an issue few Ohioans view as important.

“How many of us would admit that we were in a strip joint?” he asked. “How many of us would be honest?”

Husted conceded to reporters after the vote that he “might have” been to a strip club in his youth, but said he would be happy if his son didn’t have the opportunity.

Hagan brought a rare moment of levity to the debate with his suggestion that lawmakers’ palms should be declared erogenous zones because of how excited campaign contributions make them, a comment greeted with laughter.

Citizens for Community Values brought the adult business crackdown to lawmakers through petitions. The politically influential group has launched other national morals battles from its Ohio home base, and club owners say it is trying again with its adult business legislation.

Cincinnati Republican Rep. Bill Seitz, who opposed the original stricter regulations, said the House made thoughtful improvements.

“I would suggest to you legislators that if you want to stem the tide of these poorly written citizen initiatives, then do the responsible thing here,” he said.

Though the strip-club bill approved Wednesday is watered down from the original, Citizens for Community Values Vice President David Miller has said he views the final version as a victory for the group.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t think every bill ends up the way it began, so we think that these changes that they’ve made can still reach the intended goal of reducing crime.”

Miller said it is too soon to promise that the group won’t pursue a ballot initiative, an available option if the group is not satisfied with lawmakers’ final changes.

The dancers in the balcony, wearing pink T-shirts with “Dancers for Democracy” in black letters, are backed by the national Association of Club Executives.

Association Executive Director Angelina Spencer on Wednesday backed off threats to sue the state over the bill, but said club owners and the dancers’ group would continue protesting its criminal penalties and potential economic effects as it heads back to the Senate for consideration. The Senate is also controlled by the GOP.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, has said he has constitutional concerns about the original proposal, but his office said he has not made a decision about whether to sign the new proposal.

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