Last week, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (WAPA) sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee asking him to veto a section of the Strippers’ Bill of Rights. WAPA said they had the support of King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion and Republican City Attorney Ann Davison. However, dancers say the section Manion wants to remove from the bill would make it harder for them to collect payment from customers and to do their jobs in general without the risk of tickets from law enforcement.

The section prevents Seattle and King County from creating rules that prohibit adult performers from taking cash directly from customers, or that require them to remain fully clothed based on their distance from customers. In other words, local governments can currently instruct cops to fine dancers for giving people lap dances, and Manion, Davison, and every prosecutor in the state wants to keep it that way. 

Manion spoke to The Stranger Monday about her opposition to Section 3 of the Strippers’ Bill of Rights. At the beginning of our conversation, she simply mirrored the argument that the prosecutors made in their letter, saying that the section, combined with the possibility of alcohol in clubs, could increase dangers for dancers and somehow benefit sex traffickers. When I asked Manion to explain how that could be the case, she pivoted to saying she really only opposed the section because it applied so narrowly to King County and Seattle.

The Legislature regularly creates laws on all manner of subjects that apply differently to cities and counties with different population sizes. In this case, the Legislature applied the preemption solely to a population size that would only rope in King County and Seattle, which made sense given that 10 out of the State's 11 strip clubs are located in those two jurisdictions. 

Manion said she believed the state shouldn’t take over the role of the King County Council when making decisions about regulations of adult entertainment venues. However, she also said she’d have opposed the section even if it applied statewide. She stressed that she supported all the other aspects of the Strippers’ Bill of Rights, which requires certain worker protections for dancers, eliminates lewd conduct rules for establishments that serve alcohol, and creates a path for adult entertainment venues to obtain liquor licenses.

That statement of support rang a little hollow to some dancers and members of the queer community who had joined with dancers to repeal the lewd conduct laws and establish the bill of rights. The bill sought to limit law enforcement operations in these spaces, but Manion’s opposition to Section 3 would effectively mean that while cops would not take enforcement action against Capitol Hill bars, they would be fully within their right to continue their raids and ticketing in strip clubs, despite performers acting in a similar manner. Plenty of local ordinances still do allow law enforcement in these clubs, but dancers pushed for these preemptions because they addressed some of the local rules that make it the hardest to do their jobs.

Strippers Are Workers Campaign Manager Madison Zack-Wu explained that these local laws harm dancers. The ban on performers taking payment directly from customers means customers pay for lap dances after the dance finishes. Performers sometimes put up with worse behavior from customers, knowing that if they don’t, then customers might not pay them for the dance. Even then, customers sometimes refuse to pay. 

The proximity rules lead to increased policing in clubs, and dancers face financial penalties if they remove their top while dancing too close to a customer, or if they exit the stage with a nipple showing.

Robert Peacock, a go-go dancer who regularly performs at places such as Capitol Hill’s Massive, pointed out that despite go-go dancers also performing in skimpy outfits and with a sexual vibe, they’re often directly tipped by customers. They’re also allowed to be close to people in clubs–that's often part of the culture of their work. However, clubs pay go-go dancers for their appearances, and, until the raids at Massive, Peacock has never felt like he could potentially face a fine for standing by too close to a customer or accepting a tip directly.

By the end of the Monday, Manion had basically back-tracked her request for Inslee to strike Section 3 of the bill. Her spokesperson, Casey McNerthney, said Manion’s office had no intention of making a fuss even if Inslee signed the bill as is. However, even if she supports the rest of the bill, her choice to undercut her own request for a veto revealed that Manion apparently feels perfectly comfortable partnering up with Republican Ann Davison in a knee-jerk attempt to retain power at the expense of marginalized communities, even when she seemed to know very little about their needs.