Minimum Age For New Orleans Exotic Dancers At Issue In US Appeals Court

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for Louisiana officials were set to go before a federal appeals court Wednesday in hopes of reviving a 2016 law establishing a minimum age of 21 for exotic dancers.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was to hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by three women — ages 18, 19 and 20 — claiming the law caused them economic hardship and violated their freedom of expression.

The law, known as Act 395, makes 21 the minimum age for "entertainers whose breasts or buttocks are exposed to view" at entertainment venues serving alcohol.

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Lawmakers said the law was passed to keep young women from falling prey to drug use and human trafficking that state officials say is a problem at some strip joints.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier last year said the state had a legitimate interest in attempting to curb human trafficking at such venues and that the minimum age law could be construed as a reasonable attempt to do so. But he blocked enforcement of the 2016 law, saying it was unconstitutionally broad — so broad that it could be interpreted to prohibit some theater or ballet performances. He also said state law defining what constitutes illegal nudity is inconsistent, making the 2016 act unconstitutionally vague.

Defending the law in court are lawyers for Attorney General Jeff Landry's office and for Juana Marine-Lombard, commissioner of the state's Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control. In briefs, they say the law clearly — and legitimately — targets "strip clubs and adult entertainment venues." And they disagree that state law is vague, saying in one brief that there is an "absolute dearth of real-world confusion" about the law.

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Although the case has been progressing through the court system since late 2016, the appeals court hearing comes, coincidentally, as the state has cracked down on strip clubs in New Orleans' French Quarter. Several venues lost their state alcoholic beverage permits recently. Police said at a news conference last week that they found evidence of drug sales and prostitution at some venues. The shutdown sparked a backlash — protests from women who say the crackdown has denied them their ability to make a living.

-By Kevin McGill, Associated Press

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