JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House members voted Wednesday to repeal a contentious law making it easier for landowners to incorporate their properties as villages. But they linked it to new restrictions on sexually oriented businesses.
Supporters had hoped to keep the village-law repeal free of other provisions, so it would have a better chance of passing before lawmakers adjourn their session Friday. The future of the combined bill is uncertain, however, as it heads back to the Senate.
The main provision of the legislation would repeal a 2007 law that has been lambasted by local elected officials because it allows property owners to escape planning and zoning rules by making it easier for them to petition to become their own villages.
The village law, which is supported by House Speaker Rod Jetton, passed last year without scrutiny or discussions. But it sparked controversy when a southwest Missouri developer, frustrated by county government, immediately sought to turn his land near Table Rock Lake into a village.
Since then, another developer near the eastern Missouri town of Washington also has sought to turn his property into a village. Several property owners have done the same in Camden County near the Lake of the Ozarks, including one man who wants his property to become a village so his mules can roam freely as a method of weed control without violating local ordinances.
Rep. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, said about a dozen landowners are seeking to become villages around the state.
“If we don’t do something to repeal it now, there could be 30 of them by this time next year,” Wasson said. But he added: “If there’s anything else that goes on that bill with two days left ... they’re all probably dead.”
In a somewhat unusual series of events, the House loaded up the Senate-passed village law bill with numerous amendments Wednesday, then stripped most of them out in an attempt to pass an untainted repeal of the village law. But House members voted 88-57 to retain a provision imposing strict new requirements on sexually oriented businesses.
That occurred after Jetton, R-Marble Hill, urged lawmakers to support the restrictions on strip clubs. It also came after Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka, expressed concerns that lawmakers who voted against the sex shop restrictions, because of their support for the village-law repeal, could nonetheless be smeared by opponents in political campaigns.
The bill could banish sexually oriented businesses to remote locations by prohibiting them from locating within 1,000 feet of a house, school, church, child-care facility, library, park or other sexually oriented business.
The measure also would bar nudity at strip clubs and require seminude employees to remain on a stage at least 18 inches high and at least 6 feet away from customers.
Those restrictions are similar to ones passed by lawmakers in 2005 that were struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court because they had been added to a bill originally crafted to address “intoxication-related traffic offenses.” The court said lawmakers violated the constitution by changing the bill too much from its original purpose.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he opposed the 2005 measure on grounds it likely would violate the constitution.
House supporters of the village law repeal feared Graham would filibuster the village-law repeal now that it has been combined with the restrictions on sexually oriented businesses.
But Graham said he hadn’t reviewed the combined bill yet nor decided whether to try to block it.
Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, said he may first try to pass the combined bill in the Senate and, if that fails, seek to send it to a House and Senate negotiating group to strip out the section on sexual businesses.