Nude dancing ban in trouble

Most city senators seem opposed to bill, which will likely die

February 28, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Let the dancers take it all off.

That appears to be the sentiment in the General Assembly, where legislation that would put an end to nude dancing in Baltimore is in trouble.

Several key senators, as well as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, say they see no need to ban nude dancing, which became legal in the city five weeks ago after an unexpected Baltimore Circuit Court ruling.

"All the convention towns have that type of entertainment available," said Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an East Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the city Senate delegation. "Consider what we have on television and in the movies and everywhere else."

Among the 10 senators from Baltimore, four said last week that they will support a bill to ban nude dancing. Four others are opposed and two are leaning that way. Without the support of a majority of the city's senators, the bill would die.

Several Baltimore senators said it made little difference to them whether dancers performed nude or nearly nude.

"It isn't the clothing, it's the enforcement that counts," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Northwest Baltimore Democrat who opposes a ban on nude dancing.

Although city officials and club owners thought nude dancing had been banned in the city by a 1993 change in state law, Judge Richard T. Rombro ruled last month that nothing on the books prohibited it at three dozen clubs.

Rombro's decision was greeted gleefully on The Block and in clubs in other parts of the city. Dancers quickly removed their G-strings and pasties, and business at such establishments soared.

`Not been model citizens'

In Annapolis, Sen. George W. Della Jr. introduced legislation to undo the decision.

Della, a southern Baltimore Democrat, argues that the adult clubs, some of which have had problems with prostitution and other crimes, shouldn't be allowed to offer more risque entertainment.

"These business people have not been model citizens," Della said. "Why should we do nothing and allow them to benefit by a ruling from a Circuit Court judge?"

Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, a West Baltimore Democrat, said he will support Della's bill.

"There have to be some limits," Hughes said.

Club owners have hired lobbyists and appear to have enough backers to kill the legislation.

Nudity is everywhere, opponents of the bill argued at a hearing last week before the city's Senate delegation.

In addition, they asserted that Baltimore's image as a site for major national conventions would suffer with a ban on nude dancing, which is allowed in cities such as New Orleans and Atlanta.

`What the people want'

Sen. Joan Carter Conway said she "personally" disapproved of nude dancing but will not support Della's bill.

"You don't make laws based on your personal attitude," said Conway, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat. "You have to take a broader look at what the people want and what the industry wants."

Schmoke also sees no need to pass legislation this year banning nude dancing.

"I don't think Judge Rombro's ruling created a crisis that required a legislative response this session," Schmoke said. "At this point, I'm not sure there is a clear consensus on the issue."

While the issue of nude dancing has divided the Baltimore senators, they appear to be almost unified in their support of another piece of legislation that would take oversight of adult entertainment clubs from the city's Department of Housing and Community Development and give it to the Baltimore liquor board.

The housing department's enforcement efforts have been spotty, legislators said, and could be better handled by the liquor board and its team of inspectors.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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