The Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to curb the operating hours for sexually oriented businesses, setting a 2 a.m. closing time for the 18 licensed strip clubs that now stay open into the wee hours.
The unanimous vote doesn’t totally reflect the debate that came beforehand. A few council members said they worried about how quickly the closing time ordinance rolled through—it was first presented to elected officials last month—and about the effect it could have on strip club workers who make most of their money between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m.
An emotional Councilman Omar Narvaez, whose district includes many of these strip clubs, said that he was raised by a single mother, and he apologized to the strip club workers at City Hall for “not doing enough.” Then he voted for the ordinance.
The Dallas Police Department pushed for the earlier closing time. It’s usually the case at City Hall that the Dallas Police Department gets what it wants, and that elected officials who offer even mild resistance never hear the end of it. Suggestions that the ordinance could include exceptions for businesses demonstrating their ability to operate late at night without a lot of criminal activity were largely dismissed. A motion to add an appeal process, which Police Chief Eddie Garcia said he wouldn’t support, failed.
Police described the new ordinance as a crime-fighting measure, sharing data that says about a third of the 2,100 arrests made at sexually oriented businesses between 2019 and 2021 occurred after 2 a.m.
Some council members, pointing to the positive early returns on the police department’s new crime plan, said this would further reduce crime in the city. Bianca Davis, the CEO of a Dallas nonprofit supporting women and girls who have been sex trafficked, told the City Council that “sexually oriented businesses have proven to be fertile ground for sex trafficking along with other violent crimes.”
A group of Dallas strip clubs have already filed a lawsuit against the city. Attorneys argue the closure of these businesses “will result in the complete loss of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to sell and present constitutionally protected media and performances during those hours.”
The rules are now in effect. Violators face fines and having their licenses to operate suspended.
More than 100 people were at City Hall to protest the ordinance with signs calling it an “attack on women” and a curfew for adults. One said that “Single moms need to work too.” Strip club workers who addressed the City Council described how late working hours gave them more time with their children and families, how their livelihoods depend on jobs whose working hours have now been curtailed.
Mayor Eric Johnson, who also plugged his workforce development initiative, said “we’re not shutting anybody down by this action we’re taking today. We’re just saying the same thing that the nightlife establishments all across our city say every night and that is that at 2 a.m., the party’s over.”