Topeka A push in the Kansas Legislature to impose new restrictions on strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses stalled Thursday because a Senate committee wants to leave the job to cities and counties.
The Federal and State Affairs Committee voted against advancing the proposed Community Defense Act to the full Senate for debate. The panel's voice vote didn't kill the bill, but it remains stuck, despite strong support for the measure in the House, which approved it last week.
The legislation would limit the hours and location of adult businesses, ban total nudity inside them and impose a "no touch" rule for employees and customers. But strip clubs and adult cabarets still would be allowed to serve alcohol, a key concession to club owners meant to ease its way to passage.
As the bill's title implies, supporters argue they're protecting communities from crime, blight and other problems linked to adult businesses, especially in clusters. But senators said cities and counties should impose regulations that work best for them, rather than having the state impose one set of rules.
"Local governments are capable of doing that," said Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican who served on his hometown's city council for two decades. "Every different local area may be in a different situation. You have some very small communities where one of these places would impact them a lot differently than in a metropolitan area."
Supporters argue the bill is necessary because small communities often don't have the resources to fight adult businesses if their owners are willing to challenge restrictions or adverse zoning decisions in court. Backers have presented information from numerous studies linking adult businesses to problems, some dating back decades.
Phillip Cosby, executive director of the Kansas City-area office of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, questioned whether the committee could adequately review those studies as it squeezed its hearing, discussion and a vote into little more than an hour.
"They waded through 40 years of evidence of negative effects and made a subjective call," said Cosby, also a retired Army master sergeant from Overland Park. "I can't imagine how they could have weighed that with intellectual honesty in such a short amount of time."
Cosby said he and other supporters will look for ways to get around the committee's resistance. Senate rules allow its members to pull a bill out of a committee over its objections, but such a move requires 24 of 40 votes, rather than a simple majority of 21. Supporters also could try to amend the bill's provisions into other legislation as well.
The bill's restrictions would apply not only to strip clubs, adult cabarets, book and video stores, shops that sell sex toys and adult arcades, but also to non-academic semi-nude modeling studios and "sexual encounter centers," defined as business that allow patrons of the opposite sex to wrestle or tumble together semi-nude.
The measure would require adult businesses to remain closed from midnight to 6 a.m. and prohibit new businesses within 1,000 feet of the property line of existing similar businesses or any school, library, day care center or house of worship. Semi-nude dancers at clubs would have to keep at least 6 feet away from their customers.
"The whole concept is to close them," said John Samples, the owner of two Topeka-area clubs. "They can talk whatever they want — but that's the reality."
Samples said if clubs go out of businesses, employees who are trying to provide for their families will be forced into seeking social services from the state. He also said his clubs are a safer environment for his workers than bars because of the security measures he uses.
Owens also questioned the studies on problems associated with such businesses, saying they're from other states. Committee Chairman Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican, called the link "speculation, adding the legislation infringes on the personal liberties of business owners and people who want to patronize their clubs and stores.
"This group came down on the notion that local communities can fend for themselves in this area," Brungardt said.