Missouri Supreme Court to hear arguments in strip club case

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 ~ Updated 2:24 PM

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Supreme Court is set to decide just how much exotic dancers are allowed to show.

The high court will hear arguments Wednesday concerning a legal challenge to the state's stringent new regulations on strip clubs and adult bookstores, which owners say violate their free speech rights.

The case stems from a pair of 2010 laws that impose various restrictions on adult businesses. The legislation mandates that such businesses must close between midnight and 6 a.m., prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages, bans full nudity and outlaws physical contact between semi-nude performers and their patrons. The legislation also prevents strip clubs and adult bookstores from being located within 1,000 feet of a school, church or public park.

The new regulations were championed by conservative and religious groups trumpeting family values, but were instantly the target of a legal challenge following their passage. The Missouri Association of Club Executives, along with various adult business owners and performers, filed suit against the state to throw out the law which they argue violates their First Amendment rights at a substantial financial cost to their industry, according to briefs filed with the court. They also claim that the General Assembly did not follow its own procedure for passing legislation by failing to hold a hearing on the financial impact of the laws before they were passed.

Their case was originally filed with the Cole County Circuit Court, which ruled on behalf of the state in January prompting the businesses to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

For its part the state has argued that the law was enacted legally, despite the plaintiffs' claims that a fiscal note hearing was never held. In court documents, they argue that the state constitution does not require a fiscal hearing on such pieces of legislation before they are passed.

As for the free speech issues, they argue that the presence of strip clubs has a proven negative impact on surrounding neighborhoods, and that well-established legal precedent gives lawmakers the ability to limit speech to a certain degree to eliminate harmful secondary effects to others.

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