Public decency shouldn't be taken for granted

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By The Staff

Social skills are important. One social skill that most people over the age of four have mastered is keeping their clothes on in public. Unfortunately, state lawmakers seem to be struggling with this idea. It's not that legislators have been convening in Frankfort in the buff, but they've got nothing to hide behind when it comes to passing a statewide public decency law.

Sen. Julie Denton (R-Louisville), a perennial voice against the exploitation of women, sponsored SB 63, the Public Decency Act, which would prohibit total nudity in strip clubs and ban table and lap dancing by creating a buffer zone between strippers and patrons. It also marshals state support behind local decency standards, which may be the most crucial point since 114 of 120 Kentucky counties, including Shelby, already strictly regulate strip clubs.

Advocates say the bill is necessary to thwart aggressive strip club owners intent on doing business regardless of local laws. Kenton and McCracken County decency ordinances were targeted by high-paid, out-of-town strip club attorneys who attempted to overturn the laws on technicalities. While both counties successfully defended their laws, facing a challenge is more daunting for smaller counties like Shelby that don't have similar resources and funds. SB 63, which passed the Senate on Feb. 13 by a vote of 34-3, provides municipalities extra protection with state resources against strip clubs notorious for challenging constitutionally-sound restrictions.

Denton's bill got a boost on Feb. 21 when the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association endorsed SB 63. Larue County Judge-executive Tommy Turner, chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee, strongly supported the measure. "Senate Bill 63 helps every county and in effect, every citizen of Kentucky," Turner said. "Many communities feel as if they are isolated or are left to fend for themselves when dealing with issues related to sexually-oriented businesses. This legislation can and will become a strong ally for Kentucky counties." Unfortunately, the bill is languishing in Rep. Kathy Stein's Judiciary Committee. All decency advocates want is a fair hearing.

Strip club defenders often wrap themselves in First Amendment free speech rhetoric, but their arguments are increasingly being exposed by the courts. Just last month, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court upheld Kenton County's ban on total nudity. The ruling joined a chorus of recent legal opinions stating that total nudity and stripping is not an absolute free speech right.

The court of public opinion is also beginning to realize that too many young women get trapped by an industry that objectifies them for profit. And too many men addicted to porn and strip clubs end up with a warped view of women. Decency laws were hardly necessary decades ago, but that was before the strip club and porn industry began mainstreaming sexual exploitation. Now we live in the age of Paris, Brittney and "wardrobe malfunctions."

For many parents, including me, this issue hits home. There's a strip club 20 minutes from my house. There are issues of health and safety. There's blight and increased crime, including assault, drug dealing and prostitution. Strip clubs are a black eye to the community.

The "free-speech" arguments are getting old. The "consenting adult" thing can go only so far. And "entertainment" does have limits. It's time for state legislators to raise the bar for decency and join states like Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee which have solid public decency laws on the books.

It's a modest proposal.

Submitted by Richard Nelson, policy analyst for The Family Foundation of Kentucky. He lives in Trigg County.