tampabay.com

No vote on rules for strip clubs

After hearing from both sides, Hillsborough County commissioners decide they need more time.

By BILL VARIAN
Published August 16, 2006


TAMPA — A lawyer for the sex-entertainment industry condemned as “junk science’’ the research Hillsborough County is relying upon to justify tighter regulation of strip clubs and adult businesses.

The county claims the clubs increase crime, spread disease and drag down property values.

The analysis is shallow, and the assumptions are wrong, said Luke Lirot, addressing Hillsborough Commissioners on Wednesday.

“What I have found in reviewing the studies … is that the vast majority of these are simply junk science,’’ said Lirot, who represents several owners of adult business in the Tampa Bay area .

Commissioners  postponed until September a decision on whether to require strippers and other sex-industry employees to purchase licenses and abide by  new standards controlling their behavior and the settings where they ply their trade.

They did so after Lirot dumped volumes of studies and other material on the board late Tuesday aimed at debunking the idea that sexually oriented businesses cause harmful secondary effects that justify intensified government regulation.

Commissioners also heard from their own consulting attorney, who assured them that they were on a legally defensible course. He said the county was under no obligation to compare crime rates near strip clubs, for instance, with those of non-sexually oriented businesses.

“The county can rely on any information reasonably believed to be relevant,’’ said Scott Bergthold, whose law firm in Chattanooga, Tenn., specializes in helping local governments strengthen and defend their public nudity laws.
Commissioners received encouragement from a capacity crowd, the overwhelming majority supporting stiffer regulations .

 “God said modesty and decency are important and should be valued,’’ said Denise Gossage of Valrico.
Others praised commissioners for tackling such issues.

“I’ve never seen a board quite like this that has been willing to take the stands that you take,’’ said Bob Gustafson, president of the Hillsborough County Christian Educators Association.

Many received a letter Commissioner Ronda Storms mailed to 6,000 people encouraging them to attend.

 Mons Venus strip club owner Joe Redner , who spoke at the meeting, accused some board members of being hypocrites and said the new law will cost the county millions in legal challenges when they should be dealing with more pressing issues.

“Overcrowded schools, gridlocked traffic and environmental rape,’’ Redner said. “That’s what you should be dealing with.’’

In addition to requiring licenses of adult-business owners and their employees, the new rules would place size requirements on rooms where dancers perform, set lighting standards in sexually oriented theaters and ban touching of customers in bikini bars where alcohol is sold, among other things.