Customarily, the OLCC handles liquor licenses and stops bars from selling alcohol to minors. But even though nude dancing falls outside the normal orbit for OLCC's rules and regulations, they are trying to bring it under their jurisdiction with tangential contacts to minors being in an alcohol-serving venue.
Specifically, the OLCC plans to continue their efforts to segregate nude dancers who are between the ages of 18-21, from those who are of drinking age. Their plans are vague at this point; although OLCC spokesperson Ken Palke says they have no intention of chasing minors out of nude dancing altogether, he did say they are planning to "tighten the state's rules to keep underage performers safe and out of drinking areas when not on stage."
Their incentive, according to OLCC director Pamela Erickson, is concern for the safety of the dancers. "Drinking environments have safety risks," says Erickson in a recent OLCC press release. "Studies show high levels of victimization in bars--particularly for young women (with clothes on). There are also high risks of alcohol use, drug use, prostitution, and related problems."
According to Palke, the OLCC is still undecided about the exact plan of attack, but one possibility is to establish a "minor's table," where minors who dance would have to sit while not performing.
Yet, critics of the OLCC's efforts insist that the agency's concern for dancers is a smoke screen. "If the OLCC is truly concerned with minors who are performing, they should enable the workers to practice safety precautions themselves," says Theresa Dulce, who runs Danzine, a non-profit advocating for the rights of sex workers' rights. Dulce suggested the OLCC advocate for stricter health standards, which would include mandatory on-sight bleach water for sterilizing facilities, and making it easier for sex workers to receive health care.
Likewise, Randy Keizer, who co-owns several Portland strip clubs including Stars in Beaverton, believes the only outcome of limiting underage dancers in bars will be a violation of First Amendment rights. "This is clearly discriminatory, it's targeting an industry which the OLCC has complete and utter disdain for," says Keizer.
Though health care and safety issues are clearly outside the heart and soul of the OLCC's jurisdiction, the agency's charter is vague in defining their responsibility towards minors; this vagueness allows the OLCC greater leverage over issues like stripping. "We've had a number of complaints and concerns about these issues," says Palke, "which led to an advisory committee, which has discussed the issue."
But some critics believe the OLCC may have a different motive for their sudden concern regarding underage dancers. Eric Winters, who heads a group called Oregon Free Spirits, has recently begun his signature-gathering campaign in order to place his initiative on the November ballot--an initiative which would, essentially, privatize the distribution and regulation of liquor in the state of Oregon. Winters' theory is that by aligning themselves with the political right--that group which would tend to disapprove of underage dancing--the OLCC is gathering alliances to battle the upcoming ballot measure. "It's interesting that they chose now to [tighten rules of minor nude dancing]," said Winters. "When they're finally facing a challenge to their very existence, now they're gathering different groups to be aligned with."
Though Winters' campaign has just begun, he has until July to gather enough signatures to make it on the ballot and, he says, he's feeling very good about the possibility. "The early indications look like it's gonna sail," he explained.
The OLCC commissioners will meet on Dec 3-4 to make final decisions about the change in the OLCC's administrative rules regarding underage nude dancers.