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Legislation passed by the General Assembly this session has one Columbia business owner asking how much social control is too much.
Kevin Bay, owner of BoCoMo Bay, an “alternative smoke shop” located on Wilkes Boulevard, might see two sources of his revenue affected by two bills passed by Missouri’s House and Senate.
In the closing week of session, the legislature passed a measure that would enforce new regulations on businesses such as Bay’s that sell adult entertainment items. The previous week, the legislature approved a separate measure banning synthetic marijuana, often referred to as K2. Bay also sells K2, which he calls an “herbal incense.”
Although supporters of these measures point to the societal benefits of the legislation, Bay and other Columbia business owners fear the fiscal impact for both themselves and the state.
Nellie Symm-Gruender, owner of Passion’s adult bookstore, said that adult entertainment businesses generate more than $30 million in sales and property tax revenue for Missouri every year. The new regulations, she said, could force businesses similar to Passions to close and would cost the state revenue during a time of budget woes.
Symm-Gruender labeled one provision in the new law, which would require all areas of an establishment selling adult entertainment items to be viewable, as a business killer. The new restrictions would prohibit adult arcades — private booths located within a store where customers can view adult films. These booths provide a significant amount of revenue for the store, Symm-Gruender said, the loss of which could prompt the closing of the establishment.
According to the bill sponsor’s chief of staff, the purpose of the adult industry bill was to regulate, not close, adult businesses.
Todd Scott, chief of staff for Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, said Bartle argued on the Senate floor that adult industries would still be able to operate under his bill. Bartle was only aiming to place new regulations on the industry, Scott said.
“Why the adult business feels they should be outside the purview of regulations is beyond me,” Scott said, noting that Missouri also regulates hairdressers and barbers.
The new regulations include a measure permitting only partial nudity in strip clubs as well as a requirement that patrons sit at least 6 feet from all dancers. Under the new mandate, adult businesses must also close by midnight.
Jay Yeager, owner of Club Vogue, said it is his belief that Bartle wants to close down adult entertainment businesses. If these regulations are approved by the governor and become law, Bartle would be successful, he said.
“The minute we would have to conform to those laws, we become instantly unprofitable,” Yeager said. “We would cease to exist.”
A good portion of Club Vogue’s business comes in after midnight, Yeager said, and a large amount of the money made by his entertainers comes from lap dances, a practice that would be prohibited under the legislation’s 6-foot rule. He said he doubts he would be able to retain his staff under the restrictions.
“Quite frankly, a lot of these entertainers who don’t have job skills in other places are probably going to take food stamps and be more of a burden on the state,” he said.
Scott, however, said he hopes this legislation will provide new opportunities for women currently working as entertainers in adult nightclubs.
“I would think there are very few people, growing up, that their highest aspiration is to be a stripper,” Scott said, adding that he thinks this legislation will provide hope for women working in nightclubs and allow them to “see there is a better life.”
Scott also said adult entertainment businesses lead to other problems such as crime, sexually transmitted diseases and prostitution; he cited the case of a 14-year-old Kansas girl who was brought to work in Missouri at an adult entertainment club and was eventually raped.
Property values in neighborhoods that contain adult entertainment businesses also decline, Scott said.
Yeager, who describes his business as a gentlemen’s club, said he opposes the view that his club is a place of smut and noted that the majority of his business comes from bachelor parties.
“It’s guys having a good time; they’re having a lot of fun,” Yeager said. “It’s not some seedy underbelly place where, you know, individuals are lurking in here in the corners or something.”
Columbia adult-business owners said their establishments receive fewer police calls than Columbia area bars and convenience stores, and Symm-Gruender also said she had affidavits from neighboring businesses supporting her establishment.
All three business owners said they have attempted to contact Gov. Jay Nixon to ask him to veto the legislation when it comes to his desk.
Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for Nixon, said that though the governor had not yet read the bill, he has been generally supportive of similar legislation.
If signed by Nixon, the opponents of the bill said they plan on challenging the legislation in court on First Amendment grounds, a method that has proved successful with similar legislation.
Bay said two previous adult entertainment bills were struck down as unconstitutional. Those lawsuits cost Missouri money both in attorney fees to defend the legislation and reimbursements to the adult entertainment industry for court costs he said.
Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly said that though he was not speaking on the intent of the legislation, he wondered if the adult bill had “overreached” on First Amendment grounds.
Scott said the wording of the bill was carefully crafted, and he was confident that the bill passed during the legislative session would prevail against any First Amendment challenges.
He cited a 2009 case, Enlightened Reading v. Jackson County, in which legislation containing similar language was also challenged. In that case, the court found the Jackson County law fit within the guidelines of free expression enumerated in the First Amendment.
Bay said he wished the General Assembly would recognize the rights of individuals and stop attempting to legislate morality.
“Everyone is going to be in bubble wrap by the time they’re done,” he said.
Morality lessons should come from parents, not the legislature, Bay said, adding that his own daughter is a student at MU with a 4.0 grade point average and has never been involved in drugs or the adult industry.
But it could be argued, according to Scott, that morality can be found in every piece of legislation.
“Every law that’s passed is a statement by representatives as to where the bar ought to be set,” Scott said.