Courts - Missouri Adult businesses sue over state's strip club law Argue restrictions violate free speech, expression rights

By Chris Blank

Associated Press Writer

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Several adult businesses and others in the sex industry filed a lawsuit Tuesday to keep Missouri from implementing a new law that would ban full nudity and alcohol at strip clubs and adult stores.

The lawsuit claims state lawmakers didn't follow the proper procedures for determining the financial cost of the legislation and that the restrictions violate free speech and expression rights.

Calling the law a "series of draconian restrictions," the lawsuit asks the court to keep it from taking effect Aug. 28.

The lawsuit filed in Cole County involves more than a dozen plaintiffs, including three unnamed adult dancers, numerous businesses and an organization for the adult entertainment industry.

Along with banning full nudity and alcohol, the law would bar anyone younger than 18 and touching between seminude employees and customers at sexually oriented businesses. It also requires stores and clubs to close before midnight and prevents new adult businesses from opening near homes or schools.

Seminude employees would have to stay on a stage at least 18 inches high and at least 6 feet from customers in a room of at least 600 square feet. New sexually oriented businesses couldn't open within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, churches, libraries, parks or day care centers.

At particular issue in the lawsuit is the Legislature's procedure for estimating how much proposed bills would cost the state and local governments. The lawsuit claims lawmakers ignored a request for a formal hearing on the expected cost.

And, by not holding the hearing, lawmakers failed to account for a significant financial hit to adult businesses that generate millions in tax revenue and provide a significant number of jobs, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also claims the new rules violate free expression rights under the First Amendment. For example, it says bookstores would be limited in their right to distribute constitutionally protected material, and employees of adult businesses might not be able to perform as they have in the past or convey their desired message to patrons.

Attorney Richard Bryant, who filed the suit, said it would be a relatively simple case if the courts accept the argument that legislators did not follow proper procedures in creating the law. If the court takes up the First Amendment issue, it will become more complicated, he said.

Sponsoring Sen. Matt Bartle said he was heartened that the legal challenge focused on the process used to approve the law. He said he doesn't see the courts second-guessing the cost estimate.

"I am greatly encouraged that their method of attack is the fiscal note because I think that is extremely flimsy," said Bartle, R-Lee's Summit.

The law's supporters argue that adult businesses contribute to seedy behavior, demean women, cause divorces and drive down property values. A Tennessee attorney who developed a model Missouri used in creating its law has said restrictions on operating hours, nudity and buffers between exotic dancers and patrons have been upheld elsewhere.

The Missouri attorney general's office said it was reviewing the lawsuit.

State lawmakers have tried for several years to regulate sexually oriented businesses. A 2004 law restricting highway billboards was struck down by a federal appeals court, and legislation passed in 2005 was declared unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court because the regulations were added to an unrelated bill.


Case is Ocello vs. Koster, 10AC-CC00531

Published: Thu, Aug 12, 2010