- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A proposal to block adult entertainment venues from hiring dancers under the age of 21 won support Tuesday from a Louisiana Senate committee.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said the bill to raise the age from 18 would protect young women and combat human trafficking. The Senate Judiciary B Committee without objection sent the measure to the full Senate for debate.

James Kelly, executive director at Covenant House, a nonprofit that helps homeless youth, supports the proposal.

“If you have to be 21 to drink in one of these establishments, we believe you should have to be 21 to take your clothes off at one of these establishments,” Kelly said.

Trafficking has been a concern in Louisiana and at strip clubs, Johns said.

To his opponents in the room, Johns said: “While I fully respect your ability to make a living … unfortunately, it’s for those out there that don’t have a voice.”

Robert Watters, owner of New Orleans adult entertainment club Rick’s Cabaret, spoke against the bill, saying the change would limit women who enter the adult dancing business for good reasons. Watters said he does not employee many women under 21, but said those women often choose to dance as a way to make money to support children, seek an education or better themselves.

Watters runs his business with his wife, Chloe Watters, who told the committee she chose to dance when she was 18 years old “for a means of economic livelihood.” She said she’s not sure where she’d be today had she not had the option to work in a strip club.

“I’m afraid this is making a statement that women between the ages of 18 and 21 are weak minded and incapable of making choices,” she said.

New Orleans already enforces a city ordinance requiring dancers to be at least 21 years old, and Johns said he looks to expand it statewide.

___

Online:

Senate Bill 191: www.legis.la.gov


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