Prostitution bill draws some fire

Opponents say it invites people to break the law, go free and profit.

Published April 6, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida House wants to get tough on prostitution in strip clubs.

A panel on Thursday approved a bill that would grant immunity to prostitutes for testifying against owners of strip clubs and "massage" parlors about the illegal acts the women have committed on the property. In addition, prostitutes who cooperate could get one-third of the proceeds of any forfeited property.

But the approval came over considerable objection from Democrats, a few Republicans and others who said it violates defendants' constitutional rights to confront their accusers.

"This bill treats our Constitution like an advisory opinion," said Rep. Jack Seiler, a Democratic lawyer from Wilton Manors. "This bill gives incentives to commit a crime and then immunity from that crime."

Famed adult entertainment defender Luke Lirot painted the scene of strip club owner who finds out a stripper has been turning tricks in a back room.

"At 4 o'clock she's told she's no longer allowed on the premises. At 4:30, she goes to the law enforcement and says, 'He knows I'm a prostitute because he just fired me.' His club is probably worth $2-million. I wouldn't mind a third of that."

Under the bill, owners and operators of adult entertainment businesses that are used to advertise, facilitate, solicit, promote or arrange for prostitution and related crimes could be convicted of a third-degree felony if they knew or should have known what was going on. The maximum penalty is five years in prison.

A prostitute would get one-third of any seized assets, with the rest going to law enforcement and state attorneys.

The legislation passed the House Policy and Budget Council on a 16-12 vote. Four Republicans, including Reps. Kevin Ambler of Tampa, joined the opposition.

Advocates say it is needed to protect women who feel trapped or are physically abused by their pimps.

The bill is now headed for a vote before the full House. But even if it passes, the measure is probably dead. The Senate companion, carried by Republican Sen. Ronda Storms of Tampa, has not been heard at all.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.