"Pole Tax" Struck Down in Texas.
The LA Times is reporting that a Texas court has struck down legislation that imposed a $5-per-patron fee on strip clubs. The "pole tax" was purportedly instituted in an effort to raise more than $40 million annually for anti-sexual-assault programs and healthcare for the uninsured.
According to the Times:
The fee, which took effect Jan. 1, infuriated the owners of Texas' 162 strip clubs, who said politicians were cynically taxing a population they knew would not fight back. After all, critics reasoned, men who make a habit of drinking and stuffing currency in the attire of scantily clad women are usually not eager to tell the world about it at legislative hearings.
"It's not like Al Sharpton is going to show up and protest that we're being discriminated against," said a man who identified himself only as Dave, as he exited the Penthouse Club in Houston.
In striking down the tax, the court held that the pole tax was unconstitutional, finding that it infringed on 1st Amendment rights to free expression. The court held that the pole tax did not pass constitutional muster because, among other things, indigent healthcare had no connection to strip joints. Legislation which infringes on 1st Amendment liberties must pass a heigh scrutiny review. "There is no evidence that combining alcohol with nude erotic dancing causes dancers to be uninsured," the court wrote.
On one side of the issue, state Rep. Ellen Cohen of Houston, the former head of a women's shelter, who authored the law and garnered bipartisan support for it, commented that "We need more funding for sexual assault victims, to get the word out and to educate people. That's what this is all about, and there is general agreement that it is a good thing."
On the other side of the issue, Stewart Whitehead, an attorney for the Texas Entertainment Association, commented that adult businesses in Texas support rape crisis centers and other similar programs, but opposes strip clubs being singled out for taxation. "We hope this sends a message nationally that these establishments are protected by the 1st Amendment and you can't impose an unfair tax on them just because they are an easy political target," Whitehead said.
According to the Times, "Texas lawmakers tried to pass a fee on strip clubs in 2004 to finance education, but the levy, derogatorily dubbed 'tassels for tots,' failed."
How Appealing (April 7, 2008)