War Over Porn Endures – Competing Values – Efforts to Changeg Laws Find Mixed Results

Edition: MAIN
Section: MAIN NEWS
Page: 1A
Source: BY BRENT D. WISTROM, THE WICHITA EAGLE

Kansas’ war over porn may never end. Every year, family values advocates, politicians and countless local governments try to push strip clubs and adult video stores farther away.
And every year, First Amendment advocates, business interests and a hint of public outcry join up and kill most of the bills that would force many sex-oriented stores out of business.
So will these tougher laws ever pass?

“It’s inevitable,” said Phillip Cosby, executive director of the Kansas City office of the National Coalition for Protection of Children and Families.

“They usually fail because the Constitution usually doesn’t support the law,” said Charlie O’Hara, a Wichita lawyer who has represented some adult-video-store owners. “It violates the Constitution. But they always come up with different theories.”

Maybe next year

A new bill is languishing in a House committee in Topeka as you read this. Even Cosby, who testified in favor, doesn’t expect it to get a vote this year.

But next year, he says, it might.

The proposal is based on laws that Cosby said withstand constitutional challenges and have been approved in Indiana, Ohio and New York.

Under Kansas’ version, strippers could no longer be nude – semi-nude would be the new norm in dozens of strip clubs across the state.

The bill would keep strippers at least 6 feet away from patrons who place their money on the stage, and it would force some clubs to build taller stages.

“The employees of a sexually oriented business would be prohibited from knowingly or intentionally touching a patron or the clothing of a patron,” the fiscal note for the bill reads.
No alcohol would be allowed in the clubs. Business hours would be restrict ed to 6 a.m. to midnight.

Class C misdemeanor charges would await anyone caught breaking the new rules.
The laws could cut into the tips strippers get, especially for lap dances, which often bring $10 to $30.

O’Hara said advocates of tougher laws may not realize how they may affect others’ livelihoods.

Cosby counters with this:
“No girl grows up saying ‘I want to be a stripper someday.’ It’s not that they chose this as their life’s work. It’s where they’ve found themselves.”

House Bill 2835 would also keep all sex-oriented businesses at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches and most public facilities.

The owner of Michelle’s Beach House did not return a call for comment. The owner of Jezebel’s Gentlemen’s Club declined comment through an assistant, and the owner of Pleasures could not be reached.

Strip club owners and others in the sex industry have for years faced proposed laws intended to make it harder for them to do business.

In 2006, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill that prohibits sex-oriented businesses from displaying billboards within one mile of any state highway. Stores that are within a mile of a highway, as many are, are limited to two signs.

One sign can be no bigger than 40 square feet and can display only the business name, address, telephone number and operating hours.

A second sign, required under the law, must state that the property is off limits to minors. The bill gave stores that have larger signs three years to remove them.

A bill in 2006 would have imposed a 10 percent tax on strip clubs, escort services, adult book stores and other such businesses. But it never emerged from the House Taxation Committee.
In 2005, a federal judge ruled that Dickinson County, which contains Abilene, can keep its ordinance that prevents sex-oriented businesses from being within 1,200 feet of an interstate and requires them to close between midnight and 6 a.m.

In Wichita, the city has so far been successful in elbowing sex-oriented businesses into a few select parts of the city, such as some industrially or commercially zoned areas – though drivers can still see the adult video store signs along some of the city’s busiest roads.
That started when dancers with painted-on latex tops at the Babes & Booze Cabaret in Old Town prompted some community outcry.

Next up: the Internet
In some ways, the Internet has virtually made moot any restrictions on watching even the most radical of sex acts.

While stores deal with public opinion, phone lines and wireless signals are sending almost anything imaginable onto computer screens.

Last year, 42 percent of Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 said they saw naked people having sex on the Web at least once in 12 months, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire. About 66 percent said it was by accident.

“I don’t know how these fundamental people plan to stop the Internet,” O’Hara said. “But I suppose that’s the next step.”

Indeed, Cosby said the state probably can’t regulate the Internet, but he said federal officials could require adult material to have unique URLs, such as .xxx, that would help prevent people from clicking into racy Web sites by accident.

That way, Cosby said, “when your child types in ‘Snow White,’ she’s not going to see an offensive image.”

Something needs to be done, Cosby said, and the government has the tools.
“Don’t tell me that they can’t address Internet situations,” he said.

Those advocating more restrictions can cite problems to support their push.

Men get arrested for engaging in sexual acts at the stores. Many people have said their addiction to porn destroyed their families. And, whether it can be linked to visual stimulus or not, many believe the prevalence of smut fuels sex crimes and a general breakdown of society’s morality.

O’Hara doesn’t buy it.

“There seems to be a demand for them (the stores),” he said.

He said restrictions on adult materials are pushed by a minority of people and politicians who see a chance to gain politically.

“I don’t know where they come up with the idea that they’re so bad and they’re ruining society,” he said. “I think (banning them) is an easy solution for simple-thinking people.”
Cosby thinks not.

“We’ll be back next year, and I believe we’ll push it even further,” he said. “It needs to be a public discussion in what has happened in our culture. ”

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 316-268-6228 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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O'Hara & O'Hara L.L.C. is a Law Office in Wichita, Kansas, that represents clients facing Criminal Defense law, Family Law, and Immigration Law cases throughout the State of Kansas.