Seven months after Jersey City shut down a local burlesque performer’s show, citing their outdated obscenity laws, the city council voted to update those regulations at last night’s meeting.
The new laws were approved 7-1, with Ward D Councilman Michael Yun the lone no vote.
Councilwoman-at-Large Joyce Watterman was absent from the meeting and each council member explained their reasoning before voting.
Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson said that given there are displays of nudity on basic TV, he didn’t think the new version of the obscenity law went far enough to benefit local artists and performers.
“With the amount of things being shown on basic TV, I don’t know if this goes far enough to help the arts community, but if that’s the case ,we would have to take TVs out of all of our houses if we wanted to not see what this ordinance really protects, so I’m going to vote aye,” Robinson explained.
Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera said he was first skeptical of an update to the current obscenity laws because he reasoned that it would create some very uncomfortable encounters, such as when he was walking with his granddaughters in public and they saw a woman breastfeeding her child.
“A couple of weeks ago, I’m out with my daughter who just gave birth, and my granddaughter started crying, and, boom, she just took out her breast and started to breast feed,” he recalled.
“That impacted me because it brought me back to Councilman Solomon’s, at that very moment, to this ordinance, which I was actually putting this in place of a denial of this ordinance. So I’m very happy to vote aye on it,” Rivera said.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon, who sponsored an introduction of a new version of the obscenity law, said the bill was an important step forward for the city, although it doesn’t contain all the protections he sought.
“The bill contains two very important changes to the current law, again much stronger and clearer protections for free speech that allows for artistic performance, and second, it removes unreasonable and unconstitutional restrictions on people’s private lives,” began Solomon.
“I did want the bill to go further, and believe more trans-friendly and trans-inclusive, but we have a very diverse community and it’s important to pass legislation that moves the city forward and find consensus as a council, so I think this bill is an important step forward, and so I vote aye.”
Meanwhile, Yun said he was voting no on the new version because the ward he represents has a high concentration of religious institutions and schools.
“As a representative of Jersey City Heights, I have to vote no.”
Additionally, Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano expressed concern about the possibility of sex shops proliferating throughout the city as a result of the new local legislation.
“I just asked Councilman Solomon about sex shops, and he said there’s a state law that says you can’t open a sex shop within 1,000 feet of a school, so that excludes sex shops from 99 percent of Jersey City,” he started.
“I spoke with Lillian [Bustle], I have nothing against burlesque in a proper setting, as long as it’s done professionally and good taste, so I’ll say aye.”
Furthermore, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley says she was happy with the current formulation of the law.
“I do not agree that we should dictate what people do in their homes and the amount of sex toys they choose to have, but I’m glad that this new law is more inclusive of some of the community views with regards to nudity … so with that I’m going to vote aye.”
Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey added that she believes that the new law is fair, overall.
“I think that while the law didn’t necessarily do the three objectives that the original [bill the council considered] did, but I think it’s fair and is in line with what other cities and states are doing and with that I vote aye,” she said.
Finally, Council President Rolando Lavarro explained that a new update to the law was overdue considering the negative repercussions for Lillian Bustle’s local performances.
“It’s important to remember how all this got started: it was Ms. Bustle and her performance and how the antiquated laws that we had on the books were used to torment and harm her, and so that’s what prompted this,” he began.
“[The new law] doesn’t change the needle very much unlike our standards here as a community and how we relate to each other in that sense, but it does take away an antiquated tool and modernizes it so that we have language and laws that are more consistent with what our interpretations of obscenity and community standards are today.”
The full discussion on the subject streamed live on our Facebook page and can be seen below: