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Update: Missouri Adult industry takes law to court; 17 Plaintiffs

Missouri – A group of adult business owners and others in the erotic industry filed a lawsuit yesterday to keep Missouri from implementing a law that would ban full nudity and alcohol at strip clubs and adult stores.

The lawsuit claims state legislators didn’t follow proper procedures for determining the financial cost of the legislation and that the new restrictions violate free speech.

Calling the law a “series of draconian restrictions,” the lawsuit asks the court to keep it from taking effect as scheduled on Aug. 28. It warns the legislation will “undermine” and “shutter” productive businesses and throw people out of work into the teeth of a depressed economy.

The lawsuit filed in Cole County involves 17 plaintiffs including three exotic dancers listed under pseudonyms, numerous businesses including Passions Video Inc., an adult video and novelty chain with a Columbia location, and a trade group for the adult entertainment industry. St. Louis-area resident Mike Ocello, the president of a national chain of adult businesses, also is suing as an individual taxpayer.

Gene Gruender, owner of Passions, said the new law would cause him to lay off two employees, and it would result in the closure of most of Missouri’s strip clubs, likely putting more than 1,000 bartenders, strippers, bouncers and others out of work.

“When a club has to have strippers dressed with more on than is required at a public pool or a public street, there’s no point in it,” Gruender said. “It makes no sense.”

Gruender said lawyers are confident the law can be overturned on several grounds, including a constitutional challenge in federal court if need be. “The only problem is it will cost us a half-million dollars to prove they’re right,” he said.

Along with banning full nudity and alcohol, the law would bar touching between seminude employees and customers at sexually oriented businesses. It also requires stores and clubs to close before midnight, and it prevents new adult businesses from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, libraries or day care centers.

Seminude employees would have to stay at least six feet from customers in a room of at least 600 square feet.

At particular issue in the lawsuit is the legislature’s procedure for estimating how much the law would cost the state and local governments. The lawsuit claims lawmakers ignored a request for a formal hearing on the expected cost and pinned a total fiscal note of less than $100,000 on the bill.

A trade group, the Missouri Association of Club Executives, claims if adult businesses are restricted as proposed in the new law, at least 60 percent would close, costing the state about $2.7 million in lost sales tax and $720,000 in lost state withholding taxes and would put about 1,800 people out of work.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, champion of the bill, said because the fiscal note is the centerpiece of the lawsuit, the law itself is strong.

“The fact that they’re main frontal assault is procedural rather than substantive is, in my mind, a pretty strong indication that they know that we’re solid,” he said this morning.

Bartle said the law will not put the adult industry out of business in the state. It is, he said, designed to cut down on prostitution, which he thinks is rampant in the clubs.

“There’s been a market for pornography since the beginning of time,” Bartle said. “This isn’t going to end the industry. But there are obvious secondary effects, and prostitution is one of them. And for them to suggest otherwise is to suggest human nature isn’t what everybody understands it is.”


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