LINCOLN — As promised, Omaha strip club owner Shane Harrington has sued the State Legislature and several other state officials, claiming that they conspired to shut down nude dancing at his establishments for moral and religious reasons.

In his lawsuit, Harrington maintained that a state law passed this spring to regulate “bottle clubs” like his was not only unconstitutional, but based “entirely upon rumor, innuendo, false and misleading speculation, ignorance, outdated, inaccurate, and sexist stereotypes, and discrimination ...”

The legal action, filed Tuesday in Lancaster County District Court, asks that the bottle club law be nullified because it addresses “problems that do not and have never existed.”

Harrington has operated a handful of strip clubs in Nebraska since 2015. His Omaha operation, Club Omaha, opened 16 months ago. His businesses operate as “bottle clubs,” in which patrons bring their own liquor bottles and gain entrance by buying memberships to the club. Such bottle clubs do not require a state liquor license.

That will change later this month due to the passage of a law in April. It requires bottle clubs to obtain a state license, and to undergo the same application process and approval by a city council and the state liquor commission as a typical liquor establishment. Approval might be an issue for a club that offers nude dancing, because many Nebraska cities, including Omaha, prohibit it in liquor establishments.

Backers of the law, Legislative Bill 1120, said such regulation was necessary because bottle clubs were essentially operating as bars without regulation, creating the potential for drunken drivers, overserved customers and sex trafficking of dancers.

Harrington vehemently denied any suggestion that his dancers have been exploited, and argued that he’s caused no public safety issues via his establishments. He said he was being targeted mainly because he offered adult entertainment.

On Friday, he said that the new law threatens his business and that his employees and members are “counting on me” to remain open.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, who sponsored LB 1120, said that Harrington was “overreacting to reasonable oversight.”

The lawsuit not only names the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, but Gov. Pete Ricketts and four other state liquor officials and office holders. Harrington’s lawyer, Jason Bruno of Omaha, claimed in the lawsuit that the new law forced his client to close his Grand Island strip club and sell another club near Kearney along Interstate 80.

A hearing is set for Wednesday at 3 p.m. to determine whether a judge will issue an order temporarily suspending the new bottle club law until Harrington’s lawsuit is resolved. The bottle club law is scheduled to go into effect July 17.

One other bottle club in Nebraska affected by the new law, Shaker’s in Waverly, has chosen not to fight the new law, but file to obtain a liquor license.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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