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Suit Seeks to Block MO Adult Entertainment Law

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

This week a coalition of owners, trade groups and even a dancer or two from Missouri's adult entertainment industry filed a lawsuit challenging the law set to heavily restrict their businesses. Senate Bills 586 and 617 were signed into law in June by Governor Jay Nixon and introduce strict new regulations on adult bookstores, video galleries, strip clubs and cabarets, throughout the state of Missouri.

According to the Kansas City Star, owners of Missouri businesses fear the new adult entertainment law will force them out of business, cut tax revenues and throw people out of work during the biggest downturn since the Depression. The law specifically includes zoning restrictions, hours restrictions, a prohibition on the sale of alcohol, no longer permits "semi-nude" dancers to touch patrons, or dancers to perform nude. These restrictions on the adult entertainment industry are being challenged on constitutional grounds and for a violation of the Missouri state Constitution when the request for a hearing on the financial impact of the legislation was disregarded.

The adult entertainment industry is just one of many highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, food service, firearms and biotech, to name a few. Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, which is regulated due to its health effects, the adult entertainment industry can be said to be regulated due to its societal effects. The Wall Street Journal reports that the aim of the regulations in the Missouri law for instance, are to set "minimum standards" for an industry that the law's supporters claim is demeaning to women and contributes to secondary effects such as prostitution and related social problems. "You've got very vulnerable people who are being coerced into being the fodder for some of these places," said state Sen. Matt Bartle, the main sponsor of the original bill.

Many different types of regulations come into play in the adult entertainment industry. Licenses for entertainment and liquor and zoning regulations for clubs or bookstores are just a few of the issues business owners must comply with. However, a city or state's regulation must always be balanced with the First Amendment rights of the entertainers and bookstore owners. Generally, a law must be written in the least restrictive manner to enforce compelling government interests (such as controlling crime or noise) without unnecessarily intruding on the constitutional rights of citizens. It is a fine line and one that is often litigated.

For example, in December of 2009, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Tennessee adult entertainment law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in adult bookstores. The result of that case? In Tennessee you can drink and you can visit an adult bookstore, you just can't do both at once.

In Missouri, it remains to be seen whether the full regulations of the new adult entertainment law will take effect. For those considering the adult entertainment business, sound legal advice as to zoning, licensing and compliance with city, state and federal laws is absolutely necessary.

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