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Voters could decide how much baristas must wear

The brewing debate about how much clothes must be worn by baristas could be decided by voters.

Spokane resident Beth Solscheid this month filed an initiative proposing to create a law making it a misdemeanor crime to expose at least half of a female breast, or any part of female areolas or nipples or any part of male or female genitals or anus at any place the general public has a right to be or see.

The initiative has an unlikely ally in Sarah Birnel, the owner of Devil’s Brew, the local espresso stand chain that sparked calls last summer for rules forcing baristas to cover up as a result of the “topless Tuesday” promotion. That’s when baristas wore only G-strings and pasties. Birnel recently changed the name of the stands to Devil’s Brew from XXXtreme Espresso.

Birnel said she likes the idea of letting voters decide nudity standards. She also has a Devil’s Brew location in Spokane Valley, where that city’s City Council recently approved nudity restrictions that are the model for the initiative.

“I’m not too keen on seven people saying yea or nah,” Birnel said..

Councilman Mike Fagan first proposed nudity restrictions similar to what are proposed in the initiative, but they were rejected in a 2-4 vote by the council in October.

City code currently has an indecent exposure rule that outlaws anyone from making “any open and obscene exposure of his person or the person of another knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.”

But officials say that doesn’t necessarily cover nudity unless a negative intent can be proven. The initiative would create the misdemeanor crime of “unlawful public exposure,” which would simplify nudity rules by making it a crime to simply uncover specified body parts within public view. Exempt from the law would be nursing mothers and children under 10 and people at art and medical classes, medical offices and “bathrooms, saunas and changing rooms associated with licensed businesses.”

Misdemeanor crimes are punishable with jail sentences of up to a year. Indecent exposure, a felony, would remain on the books.

In the past few decades, city leaders have worked to promote morality laws, which have succeeded in removing strip clubs within city limits and significantly reduced the locations where porn shops are allowed. The majority of City Council members, however, were uncomfortable stricter nudity laws last year.

City Council President Ben Stuckart opposed stricter nudity rules in October along with council members Mike Allen, Steve Salvatori and Jon Snyder.

“When you get into the issue of public nudity, it gets pretty dicey,” Stuckart said. “We’ll have a definite word on what the public thinks, which I don’t think is a bad thing.”

Fagan, who works on statewide initiatives with Tim Eyman, said Solscheid and others approached him recently about working on nudity initiative.

“I’m happy the issue is not dead,” Fagan said. “If we’re going to promote Spokane based on family values we’re going to let this continue?”

The Spokane City Council is expected to forward the initiative to its hearing examiner tonight for a legal review. It is the first initiative approved under new initiative rules that were approved by city leaders last year that require a legal review of a proposed initiative before signatures are gathered. Supporters need to gather 2,477 signatures of registered Spokane voters to qualify for the November 2015 ballot. They need 7,431 signatures to qualify for an earlier election.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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