State lawmakers are eyeing a proposal that would keep 18- to 20-year-olds from stripping in adult entertainment venues in Louisiana.
The proposal, which would lift the age requirement set by state law from 18 years old, won overwhelming support in a Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now goes to the full Senate. It hasn’t yet made its way through the House for consideration.
An exotic dancer, former dancer and club owner from New Orleans all raised objections during the hearing on the bill Tuesday, though the city recently adopted an ordinance with the new age restriction.
Kendra Bogner, a dancer at Rick’s Cabaret on Bourbon Street, said she began dancing to support her daughter.
“It will affect young moms,” she said. “It’s nothing like what people think.”
Legislators in favor of the bill say that it is meant to address concerns over human trafficking.
“Many of these women who are abducted end up in these establishments — that’s a fact,” said Sen. Ronnie Johns, a Lake Charles Republican sponsoring Senate Bill 191. “We’d like to protect these young women.”
Debate in New Orleans was largely driven by a push that began last summer after a 19-year-old dancer was found dead on the interstate. “This bill will bring that into a statewide statute,” Johns said.
People who are 18-20 would still be able to work other jobs in strip clubs but could no longer work as dancers “clothed in a manner so as to expose the genitals, pubic hair, anus, vulva, or female breast nipples below the areola in the licensed premises.”
Jim Kelly, executive director of Covenant House, a safe haven for at-risk youth in New Orleans, said he sees it as an issue of protecting teens who may have limited options and be more vulnerable to human trafficking.
“It’s personal for me because I know the young people who have been caught up in strip joints and human trafficking,” Kelly said. “If you have to be 21 to drink in one of these establishments, we believe you should be 21 to take your clothes off there.”
Robert Watters, who owns Rick’s Cabaret and Rick’s Saloon on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, testified against the change, arguing that it could affect young women who have limited options.
“There are many people who are working for good reasons who we will cause to have very negative outcomes if we prohibit them from working in this business,” he said.
Watters’ wife, Chloe, said she began stripping in Houston when she was 18.
“I needed to be able to support myself, and this was the choice that I made,” she said. “I’m afraid that this is making a statement that women between the ages of 18 and 21 are weak minded and incapable of making their own choices and decisions.”
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, recalled that the issue rose to concern in New Orleans because 19-year-old Jasilas Wright, who was a dancer at Stiletto’s Cabaret on Bourbon Street, died after she was left on Interstate 10 in Metairie by a man investigators said was her pimp.
“I think it’s a good bill on multiple fronts,” Peterson said of the proposed statewide age restriction on adult entertainment businesses. “This is a legal business, and people can choose what they want to do, but we are in the business of policy, and I think we should protect people whenever we can.”