TOPEKA | Supporters of a bill that would restrict where strip clubs can operate and what activities take place inside told legislators on Thursday that the changes are necessary to protect Kansas communities and values.
The Community Defense Act would establish where adult businesses can be located, ban lap dances and regulate dancing onstage in various levels of undress. The bill is patterned after laws passed in 2010 in Missouri and upheld by its state Supreme Court in 2011.
The measure before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee surfaces two years after a similar attempt to regulate strip clubs died in the state Senate.
"It's a new day and I believe the Senate is ready to join you," said Phillip Cosby of the Kansas American Family Action of Kansas and Missouri, who also helped write the Missouri law.
Cosby said the bill will reduce the negative effects caused by strip clubs, such as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, crime, blight and sexual trafficking of underage women.
"This is a very dark corner but law enforcement skirts around because there really aren't any tools," Cosby said.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court has given states the authority to regulate sexually oriented businesses by applying "common sense" regarding placement of the businesses, hours of operations and conduct of the dancers.
"(Sexually oriented businesses) are not engines of prosperity, but a community resource liability," Cosby said.
Opponents, who will testify Friday, have argued the restrictions are unnecessary and could cost Kansas as many as 1,000 jobs.
Philip Bradley, a lobbyist representing club owners, said legislators should base laws on the feelings of Kansas communities, not other states.
"I find it interesting that we don't look to New York or Chicago or some of the big cities cited in studies to make our laws about concealed carry or firearms," Bradley said. "We look to what Kansans want and what is happening in Kansas and the facts in Kansas and I'm sure the Legislature will do that again."
Bradley said most clubs hold liquor licenses and that law enforcement and state alcohol control agents would have reason to enter the business to check for underage drinking and compliance with related laws.
Caroline Germann, a former club dancer, said she was a victim of sexual abuse through her association with other dancers and their associates who she described as gang members. After bouts with drug abuse and prison sentences, she said she was finally able to break the lifestyle encouraged by the clubs.
"I was a vulnerable girl in a club and the owners and bouncers did nothing to protect me but more or less offered an environment for my demise," Germann said.
Other said communities were left powerless when clubs try to open shop in the communities, such as the efforts two years ago by a club in Meriden about nine miles northeast of Topeka.
Stephanie Kaniper said the club was within 900 feet of a middle school, with a child daycare and residential homes within 1,000 feet. She said club owners frequently sue or use other intimidation practices to beat back local opposition to gain a foothold for their establishments.
"I'm worried for the town that is next," she said. "Every county needs protection to keep them from coming in."
Cosby said the law taken in tandem with bills that have passed the Senate to address human trafficking and commercial child sexual solicitation will make strides to protect teenage girls and women.