Washington remains the only state in the U.S. which doesn’t allow alcohol sales in any of its strip clubs. The recent Senate Bill 5614, which would have allowed the sale of alcohol at clubs, in addition to a number of protections for dancers and eliminated club fees, passed the Senate with 40-8 bipartisan support, and was recommended by the House labor committee, as well. However, the proposal was ultimately denied by lawmakers in the the Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee and will not even be receiving a hearing.
According to The Stranger’s interview with Madison Zack-Wu, the campaign manager for Strippers are Workers, a grassroots organization of Washington dancers from across the state advocating for legal protections in the adult entertainment industry, dancers are generally in favor of the bill.

“We were doing so well and people were so supportive and then all of a sudden it took a very weird turn very quickly,” Zack-Wu says.

Regulated Substance and Gaming Committee Co-Chair Rep. Sharon Wylie says in response to the death of the legislation that she doesn’t understand why the addition of alcohol would improve club safety. Notedly, however, Wylie and committee Co-Chair Rep. Shelley Kloba didn’t even hold a hearing on the bill, in which Zack-Wu and other dancers could have explained, for instance, that selling alcohol in clubs means that patrons won’t binge before coming to the clubs. Or that dancers wouldn’t be responsible for generating all of the club’s revenue. Or, that it’s a common practice for clubs owners to charge uncomfortable dancers a $20 fee to leave the dance floor. Zack-Wu makes these points and more in her interview with The Stranger.

“Moreover, the bill used proceeds from alcohol sales to pay for the added protections for dancers and the elimination of many predatory club fees,” reports The Stranger.

“If dancers thought the industry would change and be healthy without allowing those sales, they wouldn’t be asking for it,” adds Zack-Wu.

According to a 2020 report by the Adult Entertainer Advisory Committee, offering alcohol provides another reason for patrons to visit adult clubs besides exclusively seeking something sexual, which affects the atmosphere of the establishment. Dancers who travel throughout the PNW have expressed this difference between Oregon clubs and Washington ones.

Zack-Wu said she sent multiple emails to both chairs of the House Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee to request a meeting. Kloba arranged for Zack-Wu to meet with one of her staff, and Wylie never replied.

“We are easy to ignore,” Zack-Wu said.

Wylie said she didn’t ignore the dancers, but said that she didn’t have time for a meeting. Overall, establishing a new liquor license is a complex piece of law, she is reported to have said. Wylie also is said to have expressed concern about human trafficking and strip clubs without explaining the relationship she perceived between alcohol sales and trafficking.

Rep. Tina Orwall, another lawmaker on the committee, also expressed concerns about human trafficking in clubs. She arranged a meeting for prosecutors, representatives, Strippers are Workers, and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), but the meeting was inexplicably canceled.

Zack-Wu expressed her frustration that her group of experienced dancers never received a genuine opportunity to represent on the issue. She emphasized that the support from Strippers are Workers comes from conversations with hundreds of dancers who wanted this bill.

Lawmaker Wylie acknowledged that she may have a bias against strip clubs she was attempting to override in the interest of giving the bill a fair hearing.

“But it didn’t help that they accidentally legalized prostitution,” Wylie adds.

According to The Stranger, State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, who sponsored Senate Bill 5614, explains that, “The bill did, at one point, include language that decriminalized some forms of prostitution. The Senate wanted to prevent undue policing of dancers. However, lawmakers in the House labor committee fixed the language before it headed to Wylie’s committee.”

Saldaña says that once the amendment reprimanded the section of the bill inadvertently legalizing prostitution, people calmed down.

“But then you lose some momentum,” she adds.

Read the whole story on The Stranger here.

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