JEFFERSON CITY - Two days after testifying before a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, and the rest of his chamber debated a bill almost identical to the one at the center of the investigation.
Bartle's bill would prohibit full nudity and limit semi-nudity in sexual-oriented businesses throughout the state. Among other restrictions, these businesses must also close by midnight and cannot serve alcohol.
Bartle said that the events of this week were "not coordinated," and said he filed this year's bill back in December, weeks before he was summoned to testify in Kansas City.
As previously reported, Bartle's 2005 version of the anti-porn bill died in House committee after being passed through the Senate. Then-House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, assigned the bill to what Bartle said he considered an "unfriendly committee," -- a move that followed a $35,000 donation from an adult entertainment mogul to a campaign committee connected to Jetton.
In 2004, Bartle also sponsored a bill -- signed by then-Gov. Matt Blunt -- prohibiting billboards advertising sexually-oriented businesses within one mile of a state highway.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri testified in opposition to the bill during the hearing last month, saying the bill would violate free speech protections.
"These laws appear to be designed to drive these businesses out of business," ACLU representative John Coffman said Thursday afternoon. "At some point, the over-regulation of a business simply because you don't like that business or you don't like the content that's being viewed in those businesses would violate the first amendment."
No one testified against the bill Thursday, but Sen. Jolie Justus, R-Jackson County, proposed an amendment to the current bill that would exempt Kansas City. Justus said thousands of jobs would be at stake in her district alone, and the state should allow districts to regulate themselves.
"It is possible to self-regulate this issue," Justus said.
Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, however, said such an exemption could make Kansas City the "porn center of the Midwest." He said that Justus' amendment comes from small businesses, instead of local leadership in Kansas City.
Justus' amendment was defeated and the chamber voted to end floor debate on the bill. The Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week.