The bill that will give strippers in Washington more workplace protections was just signed into law.
With the passage of HB 1756 comes some long-needed changes to the strip club industry in Washington. It will implement mandatory workplace training and education for strippers, place panic buttons within any club rooms where strippers are alone with customers, create a customer blacklist, and establish an adult entertainer advisory committee.
Rep. Tina Orwall sponsored HB 1756, the original bill. In the midst of her work on the sexual assault kit backlog (that bill was just signed into law, too!), Orwall started looking into what goes on in strip clubs and the relationship between the adult entertainment industry and sexual assault. She teamed up with Rebecca Saldaña, a Washington state senator with a history of advocating for labor and workers' rights.
The two sides came together. "The question became 'how do we protect women and how do we protect workers?'" Orwall told The Stranger.
It's only people working in this industry who know what's broken and know how to fix it. "Nothing about us without us," that was the sentiment behind the testimony dancers gave during HB 1756's multiple hearings in Olympia.
That's the reason the adult entertainer advisory committee, which will oversee and implement future policies, will be 50 percent dancers.
"That was our goal. We wanted to make sure they weren’t being tokenized," Saldaña told The Stranger.
One of the bill's amendments was to give strip club management a seat on the committee. That was always going to happen, Orwall explained, but this makes it official.
In hearings about the bill, the industry representatives threw their support behind it. Except, they were hesitant about instituting a customer blacklist.
Orwall believes there’s still work to be done on the specifics of the blacklist provision of the bill. But, according to Saldaña, there weren’t any additional amendments included about it.
“We heard the industry and thought if they’re on the committee they can help inform decisions, but let’s be real,” Saldaña said, “Because of local policy we have basically a strip club monopoly and they have the ability to figure out at least an informal blacklist that’s better than what they have today.”
One of the other amendments tacked onto the bill at the end was to delay the implementation of the workplace training. Saldaña said that they wanted to make sure that they got it right and that it could be delivered to dancers in an accessible and affordable way. Part of the struggle is how technologically challenged state government is, Saldaña joked. The implementation has been pushed out to July.
Additionally, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries will work to figure out who will make up the rest of the advisory committee, according to Orwall. Advocacy groups and non-profits are being considered. Essentially, they're trying to include all the main players in this issue.
"I think we’re treading new territory and we’re going to tread carefully in a way that empowers the women," Orwall said. "It’s something that’s needed."
This bill is just scratching the surface, but it's a win for dancers in Washington state.
In January, the legislators held a meeting with dancers. They sat in a room and talked about the dancers' concerns. After the meeting, Orwall said she started receiving emails saying “you really helped me find my voice” and “this is making such a difference for me.”
"I was seeing women come to the table and seeing the courage they had to tell their stories," Orwall said. "It’s changing their life to be part of the process to empower themselves and other women."