Does Columbus Ohio Need Strip club bill?

Eddie Adams and Mark Kernes

A bill that has already been passed by the Senate to enact stringent strip clubs laws in Ohio brought a large crowd to a House Judiciary Committee hearing on it was reported this week. If the House goes along with the proposal, the bill will go to Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, for signature, and would take effect this fall.

Senate Bill (SB) 16, dubbed the "Community Defense Act," which would severely regulate all adult businesses but most harshly targets adult cabarets, has ignited a political clash with dancers, bouncers and club owners on one side and conservative Christians and law-enforcement on the other.

The ultra-conservative Citizens for Community Values (CCV), angry that the legislature removed time and place restrictions from House Bill 23, another anti-adult measure, before it passed the bill last year, began a petition drive calling for the legislature to adopt SB 16. The new bill would prohibit nude or semi-nude performing between midnight and 6 a.m. and require that a distance of six feet be maintained between dancers and customers at all times - even when the dancers are fully dressed.

Jeff Hoeppner, a night manager at Dockside Dolls on Cincinnati's Northeast Side, said the owners of his club, which draws 800 customers a week, wouldn't be able to stay open if it had to close at midnight because business usually picks up between then and 2:30 a.m. He also noted that the club's dancers rely on tip money for the majority of their income, and that such tips would be more difficult to obtain if the dancers were required to stay 6 feet away from patrons.

At a hearing before the Ohio House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, club owners brought along their facilities' blueprints to show that if the 6-foot rule were to be imposed as currently written, it would be impossible for dancers to go to the bathroom, get to the dressing room, embrace their spouses or even walk around the club.

"It will take the fun right out of the clubs," club owner Frank Spencer told Fox 8. "It will change the camaraderie." Spencer added that he will close his Crazy Horse clubs if the law is changed. "I will have to put nearly 700 people on the street without an income if this bill becomes law."

"Dancing kept me off welfare," dancer Charity Fickisen told Fox 8. "Most of the money I make comes from private dances, and that will end if the law is changed."

CCV is the brainchild of Phil Burress, a 64-year-old, thrice-married former plumber and self-described "porn addict," and donations to the organization provide his sole source of income. It was Burress who brought in Tennessee attorney Scott Bergthold, a well-known opponent of adult entertainment who is the primary author of the Community Defense Council's boilerplate anti-adult ordinance, to help draft and argue in favor of SB 16.

Burress, a long-time activist and sponsor of the first nationwide anti-adult conference in 2000, was also the primary driver behind the petition to place an anti-gay-marriage initiative on the 2004 presidential ballot in Ohio, which initiative is credited with drawing enough conservatives to the polls to assure reelection for President Bush in that state.

"The CCV is supported financially and most heavily by two very powerful and wealthy men who held fundraisers for our current president in Ohio," said Angelina Spencer, executive director of the Association of Club Executives (ACE), the nightclubs' trade association. "One of these men served as CEO of a major company and that corporation just paid a $25 million dollar fine for supporting terrorists abroad... The CCV seems immune from financial disclosure and any investigations into the discrepancies on its returns."

The Ohio chapter of ACE is spearheading a move against the Ohio bill. A petition can be found here ( which will automatically go to all Ohio legislators, against the pending bill.

"This Ohio bill will be used by the Christian Coalition as a roadmap to open the flood gates for the whole country and systematically pass similar laws in other states, which will kill our industry nationwide," Luke Liakos of the Buckeye ACE Chapter said.

Opposition to the bill has also found some favor among the local press.

Senate Bill 16 passed Tuesday by a 24-8 vote in the Ohio Senate, not because there was any political charge but rather because state senators are afraid of the religious right," wrote the Lima News. "The [Columbus] Dispatch reported no senator argued the bill was vital and there was no strong committee testimony from law-enforcement or local government officials arguing a change in the law was needed. Sen. Larry Mumper, R-Marion, whose district includes Logan County, even noted that, had the vote been a silent one, the bill likely would have failed."

Representatives of ACE recommended that the petitions be signed quickly, since the Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on May 2, at which time it will likely vote on the bill.

As to the necessity for quick action on the part of adult entertainment supporters, Spencer, herself a former dancer, recounted the following conversation:

I had dinner with an old friend here in Columbus, Ohio and was lamenting to him over this issue.

He touched my arm and asked, "You do know that your biggest problem is NOT the religious right, don't you?"

"What do you mean?" I countered.

"Your biggest problem is not the CCV. Your biggest problem is the high rate of ambivalence of people in your industry."

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