JEFFERSON CITY — Critics of a Missouri law imposing restrictions on strip clubs, adult video stores and other adult businesses brought their legal challenge Wednesday to the state Supreme Court.
Opponents of the law that took effect last August contend the measure violates free expression rights. They also say lawmakers did not follow proper procedures when approving the legislation because a hearing was never held about its estimated cost, despitereceiving such a request from a lawmaker.
The Missouri law requires sexually-oriented businesses to close by midnight and bans full nudity, alcohol, minors and touching between semi-nude employees and customers. To ensure a hands-off policy, it mandates that semi-nude employees remain on a stage at least 6 feet from patrons.
Previously, a trial court in the Capitol's home of Cole County denied a request for a temporary restraining order against the law and later upheld the law's restrictions.
General Counsel for the Missouri attorney general's office Ronald Holliger and Chattanooga, Tenn.-based attorney Scott Bergthold defended the legislation Wednesday before the state high court, arguing the law's restrictions do not violate freedom of expression rights.
Supporters of the law contend its regulations are aimed at combating negative side effects from sexually-oriented businesses, including property crime, prostitution, the potential for spreading disease, drug use and public indecency. They said the legislature relied upon previous court rulings, land use studies, crime and health impact reports, anecdotal evidence and expert witness testimony in approving the legislation and that the restrictions are not based on content.
"Nothing in the statute controls the content of any free speech — there is no regulation whatsoever of any book or video," the attorneys said in a written argument. "Nothing in the statute censors any pornography or controls what sex scenes businesses may disseminate or individuals may view."
Holliger argued that the state constitution does not require a hearing about the estimated cost of legislation.
The legal challenge to the restrictions on sexual businesses was filed by a group that includes several people and businesses involved in the adult entertainment industry. Attorney J. Michael Murray said during arguments before the state Supreme Court that the law imposes "rigorous restrictions" on constitutionally-protected expression.
"It has already proven devastating to the adult entertainment industry in Missouri, resulting in large-scale job losses, enormous loss of revenues, taxes, indeed the outright closure of several outlets for this expression that were previously thriving businesses and the threat that others will soon close, resulting in a massive reduction in the quantity and availability of constitutionally protected expression," Murray said.
Opponents said the law's regulations imposed content-based restrictions. They also contend statements from law officers, officials and the neighbors of adult businesses, plus findings of academic studies, demonstrate that adult businesses have not had the negative side effects cited by the legislature and that lawmakers used shoddy information.
Ed Emery, a Republican former House member who handled the legislation, watched the arguments. He said he thinks it would be hard for anyone who has been near an adult business to deny that it has side effects.
"Our intent the entire time has been focused on the secondary effects," Emery said.