Kansas House bill targets sexually oriented businesses

Semi-nude women dance on the stages at Allstars Gentleman’s Club in North Lawrence. Colored lights flash to the loud background music, and a bartender serves drinks to patrons, who are either watching the women or the television.

Most days, the club stays open for 13 hours, with managers closing down at 2 a.m. Around 4 p.m., only three cars sit in front of the entrance to the club, at 913 N. Second St.

Teresa Fernandez, the day manager and bartender at Allstars, said House Bill 2054 regulating clubs such as hers could drastically change business.

“Some people won’t come in,” Fernandez said. “We would probably lose some business, and it may cause some businesses to fold.”

The measure, dubbed the “Community Defense Act,” would ban employees from being nude or topless, and it would forbid the serving of alcoholic beverages, being open after midnight and offering private dances. It also would dictate where these establishments could be located.

Testimony on HB 2054 was heard Thursday before the House Standing Committee on Federal and State Affairs. A similar bill died on the Senate floor in June 2011.

Supporters of the act, including Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, who is vice chairman of the committee, said strip clubs have adverse effects on communities.

“I am concerned with the negative secondary effects that these establishments create within communities, especially in small communities,” Brunk said.

The committee heard testimony from supporters of the bill Thursday, including Phillip Crosby, the state director of the American Family Association, a church affiliated nonprofit organization.

“Sexually oriented businesses are not engines of prosperity, but a community liability,” Crosby said. “The effects are increased crime, increased STDs, property devaluation, prostitution and human and drug trafficking. Communities are intimidated by the sex industry, and Kansas communities have no restrictions in place.”

Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Merriam, questioned whether increased regulation would drive sexually oriented business underground, where little oversight by local police is possible. He noted that the Junction City police chief told him that the adult businesses in the town elicit fewer problems than local bars.

Several supporters, including representatives from the Kansas Catholic Conference, Concerned Women for America and the Kansas Family Policy Council, gave testimony that there is a connection between strip clubs and sex trafficking.

“The sexualization of our society is on the increase, and the demand is for younger and younger girls,” said Judy Smith, state director of Concerned Women for America. “Sex traffickers prey on the vulnerability of these young women.”

Kim Murphree, a spokeswoman for the Lawrence Police Department, said law enforcement went to Allstars 17 times in 2012. There was one call regarding harassment, one for battery and one for a medical emergency.

Fernandez said that during the two years she’s worked at Allstars she has not experienced any problems with crime in the club.

“Some people who are trying to push this bill have never been in a strip club before,” Fernandez said. “They need to get informed first. It’s just a place where people have fun and get a drink and spend a weekend night.”

The hearing will continue Friday with testimony from people opposed to the bill.