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Update: Mo. Senate backs bill regulating sexually oriented businesses

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Senate endorsed strict regulations for sexually oriented businesses Thursday — just days after a federal grand jury convened to look into the demise of a similar bill five years ago.

The legislation would ban strip clubs and adult video stores within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, churches, libraries, parks and day cares. It also would ban nudity, require semi-nude employees to stay 6 feet from customers and force adult businesses to close by midnight.

Senators gave initial approval to the bill by voice vote after a short debate with scant opposition. A final vote, which would send the bill to the House, is expected early next week.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, who testified Tuesday before a federal grand jury in Kansas City that is looking into how his 2005 version died in the House. Bartle has said he believes there is a link between a $35,000 contribution from the adult entertainment industry to a political committee and then-House Speaker Rod Jetton’s decision to send the bill to a committee whose chairman opposed it.

Jetton has denied wrongdoing and said there’s no connection between the money and the legislation’s demise.

Bartle and Senate Majority Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, both said it was mere coincidence that the Senate took up Bartle’s latest anti-pornography legislation the same week as the grand jury investigation. But they acknowledged the publicity could help propel the bill to passage this year.

“I’m not going to deny that the environment right now is opportune,” Bartle said. “I think that it’s highly unlikely under these circumstances … that anybody in the Legislature is going to take some campaign contributions from a porn shop.”

The only audible “no” vote on the legislation Thursday came from Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, who tried unsuccessfully to exempt sexually oriented businesses in Kansas City from the proposed regulations.

Justus said the legislation would force some adult-oriented businesses to close, and Bartle acknowledged that was likely. The adult entertainment industry employs about 3,000 people in Missouri and generates $4.5 million in sales tax revenues, Justus said.

With the economy ailing, “this is not the time to be cutting jobs, this is not the time to be getting rid of a significant amount of sales tax revenue,” Justus said.

Kansas City already has a good 27-page ordinance for such businesses, she said.

Bartle countered that if Kansas City were exempt from the legislation, “the practical effect is going to be to make Kansas City a porn capital of America.”

The bill’s restrictions on the location of sexually oriented businesses would apply only to those opening after its Aug. 28 effective date. But existing businesses may have to remodel. They would have 180 days to comply with provisions requiring semi-nude dancers to remain on a stage at least 18 inches high that is at least 6 feet from customers in a room with at least 600 square feet.

Businesses or individuals that don’t comply with the legislation could face misdemeanor charges punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail for each day a violation exists.

After Bartle’s previous bill passed the Senate on March 29, 2005, Jetton assigned it on April 4 to a House committee led by Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee’s Summit, who opposed the bill. In between those dates, a political committee for the adult entertainment industry gave $35,000 to the Committee for Honest Campaigns, which usually helped finance Republican campaigns.

Bartle’s legislation eventually cleared Johnson’s committee in 2005 but never made it to the House floor. Instead, senators amended similar restrictions on adult-oriented businesses to a drunken driving bill sponsored by Jetton. That bill passed and was signed into law. But a court struck down the provisions on sexually oriented businesses because they violated a state constitutional ban on legislators changing a bill’s original purpose.

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Adult entertainment bill is SB586.

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