Update, 1 p.m. Thursday: On a 7-0 vote, the New Orleans City Council passed the motion to ban strip club workers under the age of 21.
The council scaled back on its initial proposal. The new plan allows employees to work at strip clubs, but not as dancers.
Some critics of the original plan said that women who would otherwise work in these clubs as bartenders or waitresses would lose income.
The council is also directing the City Planning Commission to conduct a public hearing and study on the use of “adult live performance venues.”
A controversial proposal that would require all strip club employees to be 21 or older had an airing Wednesday before a City Council committee, showcasing tensions between supporters and opponents of the rule.
Owners and employees of the French Quarter adult establishments the suggested law would affect said the proposal is flawed and has shaky justification.
If passed, the plan would stop strip clubs from hiring those younger than 21 in any capacity, including as bartenders or waitresses. The present law says those under 21 can work in such clubs as long as they keep certain body parts covered if they perform.
Clubs that violate the new rule could have their city permit to sell alcohol suspended or even revoked.
The committee discussed but did not vote on two amendments to the proposal, which is slated for consideration by the full council Thursday.
The amendments provide that the new law would not apply to people under 21 who already work in such clubs and that club owners would not be held responsible for scantily clad individuals who visit their establishments but are not employed in them, Councilwoman Stacy Head said.
The proposed ordinance was introduced after 19-year-old Jasilas Wright, a dancer at Stilettos Cabaret on Bourbon Street, died in June after being left on Interstate 10 in Metairie by a man investigators said was her pimp.
The proposal also came after the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control unveiled its Operation Trick or Treat, an undercover investigation that resulted in liquor license suspensions at several French Quarter strip clubs and bars where police uncovered prostitution or illegal drug use or sales.
None of the clubs cited in that investigation showed up Wednesday to protest the ordinance. Instead, officials from Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, Rick’s Cabaret and the Penthouse Club were present. Attorney Ike Spears called them “good actors” who he said would be unfairly penalized if the new rules pass.
The rules are a faulty reaction to something that might have happened even with an under-21 ban, Spears said, and are based on the incorrect assumption that the current law bans dancers younger than 21 at such clubs, when that’s not the case, he said. Had council members fully understood the present law, he said, the proposed new rule might never have been written.
Spears and his clients also blasted Covenant House, the North Rampart Street shelter for homeless youth that first urged the council to bar young dancers at adult clubs.
A Loyola University study, cited in the proposal’s preamble, should not be used as justification for the new rules, Spears said. It found that a quarter of Covenant House residents interviewed had been involved in sexual labor of various sorts and that a tenth of them had worked as exotic dancers.
Interviewees also said the age requirements for local strip club dancers aren’t enforced at many clubs.
Covenant House officials were present at the hearing but did not immediately address Spears’ comments.
What seemed to resonate most with one council member was the argument that the under-21 ban would hurt young women who work in these clubs in order to pay for school or support families.
Cassidy Wall, an 18-year-old University of New Orleans student and bartender at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club on Bourbon Street, said she can earn between $300 and $500 per shift when waitressing, money that she uses to pay for her education.
Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey said that if 18-year-olds cannot work in these clubs, they may turn to the streets to escape poverty. Last month, Ramsey spoke in support of the proposed age limit, but later she said she wanted to defer action on it until the council heard from the club owners.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry said strip club bartenders and waitresses might make about the same money working in traditional restaurants or bars.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.