Strippers Take a Stand on the Constitution

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) — In a lawsuit against Louisiana, three young dancers say a new regulation on the legal age of strippers will stop them from earning decent money legally, and could force women into prostitution.
     The regulation took effect on Aug. 1, when the state began enforcing it statewide — except in New Orleans, where enforcement will begin on Oct. 1. Act No. 395 contains standard restrictions on nudity and dancers’ distance from customers. Jane Does I, II and III object to the requirement that “erotic dancers” must be 21 or older.
     That’s an unconstitutional restraint on speech and expression and commerce, they say, and it’s discriminatory because the Legislature made it clear that “Act No. 395 was enacted to regulate and ‘protect’ women aged eighteen, nineteen, and twenty” — but not young men.
     The federal lawsuit includes ample citations from floor debate, which its sponsor, state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Calcasieu, called “strictly an anti-human trafficking bill.”
     House Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, said during floor debate: “We need to do something to get these people to recognize that there’s another way of living, you know. I wish there was something we could do to make [erotic dancers] go to church or something.”
     Perhaps the most remarkable comments came from House Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, who introduced an amendment that would have prohibited strippers from working if they were older than 28 or weighed more than 160 lbs.
     That provoked outrage from at least three women members of the Legislature.
     House Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said: “Looking out over this body [the House of Representatives], I’ve never been more repulsed to be part of it. I can’t even believe the behavior in here. I think we need to call an end to this. I hear derogatory comments about women in this place regularly, I hear and I see women get treated differently than men. … That was utterly disrespectful and disgusting.”
     Havard withdrew his amendment after two other women legislators backed Stokes.
     Havard told Courthouse News on Tuesday that by proposing his amendment he was “trying to use satire.”
     He said his amendment was meant to be so over the top it would stop Act 395 in its tracks, that it was an attempt to “shed some light on what I thought was a terrible piece of legislation.”
     Havard said it is ridiculous to think that people younger than 21 are unable to make their own decisions.
     “We can send them to Afghanistan or Iraq, and they can fight for our country. They can come back and own a strip club. They can be sentenced to death for a crime,” Havard said.
     “To me, it’s hypocritical. “The same folks [that passed this Act] would rather get rid of strip clubs altogether.
     “They claim this is going to shut down on human trafficking. … If human trafficking is the issue … then let’s ask strippers, ‘Are you of age? Is anyone forcing you to do this?’
     “Now these girls who are used to making $2,000 a day or more” are going to have to take it down the block to get make that kind of money, he said.
     “I say, people, lighten up,” he added.
     Finally, Havard said, his amendment was gender-neutral.
     “I’m fat — and I can’t strip either,” Havard said.
     Havard weighs more than 160 lbs.
     Johns called his bill a reasonable attempt to stop human trafficking.
     “I know in my mind in preparing the bill I got to thinking about things like our alcohol laws, we limit that to 21 years old,” Johns said. “There are other statutes on the books that limit the age of what people can and cannot do.”
     The Jane Does, however, say the law’s effects will be pernicious.
     Jane Doe I, who works in a New Orleans strip club, says she “has witnessed pimps and prostitutes attempt to use Act No. 395’s age restrictions and has witnessed pimps and prostitutes trying to recruit entertainers who are now lawfully employed, but who will lose their job as a result of the Act.”
     Jane Doe II, an 18-year-old student at LSU, says she has discussed Act 395 with other young strippers, and that “some of those women report that they will seek income through prostitution now that they have lost their legal jobs as erotic dancers.”
     All three Does say the law will subject them and other young dancers to possibly criminal harm by making them “more susceptible to harm from traffickers, pimps, and prostitutes, because it eliminates a legal job with high pay and flexible hours.”
     Even Havard, who says he opposed the law, voted for it. It passed unanimously.
     “That’s the problem down here,” Havard said. “They bring these feel-good amendments in that feel good but they do nothing, and I didn’t want to be the only donkey that didn’t vote.”
     The three Does want enforcement of the law enjoined as unconstitutionally overbroad, a violation of the First Amendment, due process and the right to equal protection, and an unconstitutional impairment of contracts.
     A hearing on the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled.
     The Does are represented by Harry Rosenberg with Phelps Dunbar.

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