ANCHORAGE - A state House committee has transformed a bill to tighten regulation of under-21 strip clubs into legislation that essentially bans such clubs.
"We as legislators, as policy-makers, have a moral fabric within us ... we have to follow our own moral code," said Rep. Tom Anderson, an Anchorage Republican, who is leading a charge to outlaw Alaska's nonalcoholic strip clubs.
Currently, people 18 and older can work in and visit the no-alcohol strip clubs. Under the new version, no one under the age of 21 could patronize or dance in an Alaska strip club.
The proposal passed the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday and was headed for the Judiciary Committee.
Owners of nonalcoholic clubs in Anchorage say they'll challenge the bill in court if it passes.
"It eliminates the opportunity for 18-, 19-, 20-year-old people to have a job, which should be their right under the Constitution," Kathy Hartman, the co-owner of Fantasies on Fifth Avenue, told the Anchorage Daily News.
Fantasies on Fifth Avenue is one of at least three nonalcoholic strip clubs in Anchorage. Fairbanks is home to one.
Doug Hartmann, a disc jockey at the Showboat in Anchorage, said it's an entertainment business that should be open to 18-year-olds.
"You're old enough to fight for your country, old enough to go across the sea and die for your country," said Hartmann, who said he was a veteran.
Anderson is not known in the Legislature as a moral crusader. He was once director of a trade group for bars and has been one of the Legislature's advocates for legalizing video gambling machines in bars to raise state revenues.
But under-21 stripping is different, Anderson said. High school kids shouldn't be watching strippers or be paid to take their clothes off, he said. It should be restricted to age 21 like gambling and alcohol, in his view.
Anchorage police officer P.J. Paiz, who favors raising the legal age to 21, said the clubs attract people involved in crimes like drugs and prostitution.
"If you are around it, you can end up being involved in it. ... I don't think that it is a healthy environment for people that young," Paiz said.
But the Fantasies on Fifth Avenue owners said that not all strip clubs are the same and they strive to provide a problem-free environment.