Conservatives turn attention to porn, strip clubs 

Look, Don't Touch

Much like your mother, everything Oran Smith knows about champagne rooms he saw on TV.

Flipping through the channels one night, the president of the conservative Palmetto Family Council stumbled upon a drama with a stripper giving a bachelor an arousing lap dance before whispering in his ear that she had more to offer him in the champagne room.

It was the melding of this fictional experience with a 2006 high-profile shooting at a Columbia strip club that prompted Smith's group to recommend new regulations for adult businesses that would prohibit touching and limit hours, similar to a nearly identical bill enacted in Ohio last year.

"Dancing is entertaining, but these lap dances and champagne rooms seem to be slipping over the line to something more akin to prostitution," he says. "That's not the same thing as putting on a performance."

The Palmetto Family Council is shepherding legislation through the Statehouse that would put six feet between dancers and their patrons and close all adult businesses at midnight — including adult bookstores which have no shaking or thrusting staff.

Momentum slowed on the legislation last week when it was pulled back into subcommittee, but Smith is still hopeful it'll win approval in the last weeks of the legislative session. Meanwhile, club owners and managers from across the state have begun to organize in order to determine how to fight the bill.

It's a slippery slope, says Barry Clarke, who runs the Emerald City gentlemen's club.

"Our business is like the canaries in the miner's cave," he says. "After we're gone, government will set its sights on something else, even if it's another prohibition."

Elected officials should have better things to do than legislate morality, Clarke says. Emerald City employs about 25 people and has more than a dozen independent contractors, including clean-up crews and food and beverage suppliers. Some or all "will find themselves out of work," Clarke says.

While business owners are painting a bleak picture, Smith says this isn't about closing adult businesses, but about curtailing secondary effects he associates with these businesses — like drug use, sexual assault, and prostitution.

Adult nightclub owners stress they're more cognizant of legal trouble than most bars because they're aware of the microscope they're under. Unfortunately for them, Smith has at least one albatross to hang around their collective neck.

Columbia lawyer Dewain Herring is serving 30 years without parole after fatally shooting a Columbia strip club owner in early 2006 after he kicked Herring out. Stories like this are prevalent in nearly any watering hole regardless of whether or not skin is on display. A similar incident occurred outside a bar in downtown Charleston last year, but Smith suggests the Herring killing is just one example of the secondary effects of strip clubs in particular.

"It seems like every other month there's some problem," he says

Angelina Spencer, executive director of the Association for Club Executives, says the legislature shouldn't point the finger at strip clubs. In a position paper on the economic impacts of the proposed legislation, Spencer points to a study by Duke University and the University of North Carolina that showed less crime took place around adult businesses than other establishments. She also questioned what correlation the new regulations would have on addressing concerns of crime and blight.

"Does requiring a dancer to stand six feet away from a patron raise property values?" she asks.

Spencer also tried to hit legislators where it matters most — their pocketbooks. The adult nightclub industry brings in $40 million in tax revenue every year, not including adult bookstores. Dancers earn approximately $45 million in tips which are reinvested in the South Carolina economy, and there are about 13,000 tax-paying jobs in the industry, she says.

When introduced, Ohio's regulations were strikingly similar to what's being proposed in South Carolina, but they were pared back before going on the books last summer. The six-foot barrier was tossed out — though touching is still prohibited — and entertainers were allowed to perform topless after midnight.

Regardless, Spencer says the industry is still estimating a 60-to 80-percent loss in revenue.

Smith doesn't think the South Carolina bill will ruin businesses.

"There's plenty of opportunity to make some money," he says. "It seems crazy to me to think the revenue stream would dry up if there was no touching."

Of the proposed regulations, Smith says limiting the hours may be the most harmful to businesses, but he says that's not the meat of the bill.

"We feel more strongly about the no touching part," he says.

Management at Chateau Exxxperience, a 24-hour adult bookstore, hadn't heard about the bill's potential impact on them. While midnight to six isn't their busiest time of the day, the store stays open 24 hours as a convenience to customers. The business began operating 24 hours a day a few years ago when another all-night bookstore was forced out by City of Charleston regulations. Chateau had its own run-in with municipal zoning regulations, but the store won in court.

But other troubles lie ahead beyond their late hours. Upstate Sen. Mike Fair, a Republican, has proposed legislation that would add a 20-percent surcharge on adult magazines. The money would be used to help law enforcement monitor sex offenders.

The story in Ohio may be a cautionary tale. Underground clubs have started popping up in Ohio where patrons can smoke freely and, in some cases, touch the girls all they want, according to a recent Associated Press report, suggesting it's a lot easier to legislate morality than it is to control it.

Defining Obscenity

Legislators are haggling over two pieces of legislation that would impact South Carolina's adult entertainment industry with differing takes on how to define "too much" skin. Both go beyond the adage of "I know it when I see it."

A piece of legislation thrown in the state budget would add a 20-percent surcharge to "adult entertainment printed materials." As for defining what those are, it clarifies that it's any magazine prohibited from purchase by minors that includes full frontal nudity, defined as "exposure of any genitalia or exposure of the entire breast of a woman in a manner that a reasonable/average person applying contemporary community standards would find to be a lascivious exhibition."

Though some would argue whether seeing the breasts alone is "full frontal," we get the idea. Maxim: No tax. Playboy: That's another buck and some change, please.

The larger proposed legislation that would keep dancers six feet from patrons and limit the hours of strip clubs and bookstores includes much more detail on what constitutes a performance.

"Nude or nudity mean the showing of the human male or female genitalia, pubic area, vulva, anus, anal cleft, or cleavage with less than a fully opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple or areola."

We get the gist of it, but we looked up "anal cleft" just to be sure we know what they're talking about.

Of course, the real fun is in those minute details, particularly in regards to what the bill would recognize as semi-nudity: "the showing of the female breast below a horizontal line across the top of the areola and extending across the width of the breast at the point, or the showing of the male or female buttocks. This definition shall include the lower portion of the female breast, but shall not include any portion of the cleavage of the human female breasts exhibited by a bikini, dress, blouse, shirt, leotard, or similar wearing apparel provided the areola is not exposed in whole or in part."

So, Dolly: Good. Janet Jackson: Nasty. —Greg Hambrick


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