Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler (R) has earned a reputation as a fringe extremist even in the conservative state legislature. But Zedler has outdone himself with his latest bill, which would regulate “sexually oriented” businesses, in part by requiring strippers to obtain and wear a license to work.
Licensing requirements for strip clubs and performers exist in many cities and in the state of Alabama. Usually, these laws require a background check and registration with the Labor Department. However, Zedler’s bill goes further, mandating that exotic dancers would need to “conspicuously display” the license while working. They could only obtain the license after completing a training program on human trafficking:
To get that license, they would have to meet a variety of requirements, including being at least 18 and completing a course about human trafficking. No one convicted of crimes such as prostitution, obscenity, public lewdness or sexual assault would be eligible for a license. [...] Many details about the license would be left to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
But the bill states that anyone who receives a license would have to wear it while doing their job — including dancers.
“They could wear it around the neck … or on their shoes … or attached to a head band,” Zedler suggested.
Furthermore, the license would display the woman’s real name, exposing her to harassment, stalking, and stigma in her daily life. Zedler admitted that making a stripper wear her real name could be dangerous and suggested that they may be allowed to cover that part of the license.
Zedler’s bill is similar to a city ordinance already enacted in Houston. Exotic dancers in Houston have to display a license while stripping, a rule upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the nation’s most conservative appeals courts. Since the license requirements went into effect in 2004, strippers are bearing the brunt of the city’s budget troubles. Licenses in Houston now cost $250, up from $60. On top of the city fees, clubs themselves often charge their employees an additional fee of up to $80 a time slot. Police have also used the ordinance as an excuse to raid the clubs and arrest strippers — mostly leaving their employers alone.
Zedler contends that his bill is meant to guard against human trafficking, a legitimate problem in the industry, and deter minors from getting involved in “drugs, prostitution and that kind of thing.” However, his license requirements place the burden squarely on the women on the stage, not on the companies and clubs reaping far bigger profits than their employees. Several topless dancers recently sued Dallas strip clubs in federal court for denying their workers any wages at all. Many other clubs classify their employees as “independent contractors” in order to avoid minimum wage laws and labor standards. If Zedler really does want to “clean up the profession,” as he claims, he should tighten scrutiny on the clubs themselves, rather than further penalize the women in the profession.