A license to strip? Moorhead proposal is laid bare

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2013 - 11:24 PM

Moorhead is expected to pass ordinance requiring adult entertainers to be licensed.

Hoping to curb the oldest profession as well as cut down on sex trafficking to North Dakota's oil fields, officials in Moorhead, Minn., are expected to pass an anti-prostitution measure requiring erotic dancers, nude models and adult escorts to obtain licenses and submit to background checks if they want to work in the city.

"We're not going after anybody," said Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger on Thursday. "Escorts, dancers, nude and semi-nude models are doing business that's not prohibited by law but is very frequently used as a mask for prostitution activity."

Ebinger said his North Dakota counterparts across the Red River in Fargo and West Fargo are pushing similar ordinances and the regional approach will attempt to stem "a fairly prominent problem here" with prostitution trafficking between their cities and the oil fields in northwestern North Dakota. He said the Fargo page on the www.backpage.com website is chock full of suspicious "adult" ads.

"We're seeing these transient groups coming through, setting up in hotels, advertising [online] and plying their trade," Ebinger said. "We want to regulate it."

He hopes the regulations will reduce "a huge problem of runaways and minors trafficked into the sex trade." One FBI study ranked Minnesota 13th in such trafficking of children.

The Moorhead measure, which will have its first reading Monday, should sail through, according to one of two council members opposing it on moral grounds.

"It sends a message that we condone something I don't think we should have anything to do with," said Council Member Luther Stueland. "I'm against improving the comfort level of those who hire these adult entertainers."

Licensing fees have yet to been determined, but Ebinger said adult entertainers would likely have to pay $150 to $250, carry a photo ID and divulge their real names, aliases and criminal histories. Background checks revealing prostitution or drug convictions would disqualify applicants from receiving permits. Anyone doing adult business without a license would face misdemeanor charges and fines.

But the legality of such a measure could be G-string thin. Just 325 miles to the south in Sioux City, Iowa, authorities passed a moratorium in August, halting that city's licensing of adult entertainers after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a state law exempting theaters from a statewide nudity ban trumped local stripper regulations.

While larger cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth license adult entertainment venues but not individual performers, Moorhead wouldn't be completely breaking new ground. In Modesto, Calif., for example, a city ordinance reads, in part: "No person shall engage in or participate in any live performance depicting specific anatomical areas or involving specified sexual activities in an adult entertainment business, without a valid adult entertainment business performer permit."

Permit fees for adult entertainers in Modesto cost $220, plus $56 for fingerprinting, and applicants must share copies of their driver's license, Social Security card and a photo. The application asks for a work history, a list of aliases and whether the applicant has ever been convicted of crimes "involving moral turpitude."

Sioux City had a similar application process for adult entertainer permits, even asking for the worker's height, weight, hair and eye color and stage name. Then came last summer's Supreme Court ruling on Mall Real Estate LLC vs. City of Hamburg. Although the justices didn't specifically say municipalities lacked the authority to license adult entertainers, City Attorney Nicole Jensen said the city passed a moratorium and will wait and see whether Iowa lawmakers amend their obscenity laws later this year.

"We felt in order to be cautious, we needed to not enforce it at this point, until the Legislature could provide us with additional guidance," she said.

Ebinger, the Moorhead police chief behind the new measure, doesn't expect any legal hangups.

"We just want to be able to know who the players are," he said. "We need to focus on identifying everybody involved in these legal activities to make sure they are adults -- just like we make sure only adults issue liquor or tobacco -- and the people running these businesses are legitimate."

Curt Brown • 612-673-4767

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