This bill originally would have barred people from under 21 from performing as strippers in places that serve alcohol. The impetus came to combat human trafficking, which particularly plagues the youngest individuals, research reveals It actually passed last year in a slightly different form without a single dissenting vote, but then lost out on a court challenge that nonetheless demonstrated alterations that could make the law constitutional.
With that in mind, last year’s bill author Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns submitted this year’s more elaborate version, with no controversy expected regarding it. Even when Sen. Pres. John Alario assigned it to the Judiciary B Committee, unlike last year’s that went to Judiciary C – the two have identical jurisdictions – that didn’t seem so odd since Johns sat on the former.
But something clearly was afoot on this committee where, in the odd culture of the Senate where even a party outnumbered almost 2:1 in the chamber can have a majority on a committee and the chairmanship, Democrats outnumbered Republicans, unlike Judiciary C. Jim Kelly, executive director of Covenant House, an agency with a Christian background that serves young people often abused, and others testified to the vulnerability of the 18-20 age group that the bill could help to protect.
Then, without apparent warning, Democrat state Sen. JP Morrell offered amendments to change radically the bill. These lopped off the age requirement and added provisions to educate about trafficking personnel at strip clubs as well as other venues where younger people outside family environments might congregate.
The committee went along with the ambush, thoroughly hijacking the bill by accepting the amendments over Johns’ objections, despite solid statistical evidence that the group of youngsters in question falls prey to human trafficking. Afterwards, Johns pledged to not work to reverse the result on the floor.
Subsequently, it came out that Morrell had shilled for an alliance of strip clubs and a radical leftist group called Women With a Vision. Initially formed over a quarter century ago to assist women suffering from sexually-transmitted diseases, the group since has broadened its approach to assert that sex work like stripping empowers women, while presently diverting women from prostitution it argues legalization of prostitution could improve that situation, and concentrates on furthering causes such abortion on demand and lesbian and transgender “rights,” especially for minority women, that it alleges face oppression from “patriarchy” and “racist ideology.” Most tellingly, it objects to groups like Covenant House that, in its words, tries to “save” individuals.
Simply, the committee took the viewpoint of an organization promoting a fringe ideology that runs counter to the available data. Adding to the mystery, the rather burdensome, if not unworkable, educational requirements now in the bill could have coexisted with raising the age to 21, but the committee members seemed disinterested in that.
Of course, all those present did not vote against a bill with an age limit last year (Morrell and state Sen. Karen Paterson, another Democrat, did not vote on the final version of that bill). Was the “do-me feminism” and claims of a society infused with misogyny so convincing to the committee, even to GOP state Sen. Norby Chabert? Or just a fig leaf to allow revenues to continue unabated for strip clubs, who constitute a well-funded special interest?
We’ll probably never know everybody’s motives, but even in its folded, spun, and mutilated version the opponents of raising the age requirement have achieved their objective. Alario, who might be in on the fix, may never bring it for a vote in case it passed and then the House reverts it to its previous form. But if it does pass today and this scenario develops, then to prevent putting senators on the spot on its return, it simply could languish at his hands.
Regardless, good legislation probably will end up sidelined. A profile of courage, this episode was not.