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Adult club money not going to intended causes State has collected $11.2 million but is holding money
19/02/2009 - By By Corrie MacLaggan

Since a statewide $5-per-patron strip club fee went into effect a little more than a year ago, Texas has collected $11.2 million, the comptroller's office said.

Since a statewide $5-per-patron strip club fee went into effect a little more than a year ago, Texas has collected $11.2 million, the comptroller's office said.

But none of that has gone to the intended causes: health insurance for low-income Texans and programs to prevent sexual assault and help victims.

That's because a state district judge last year struck down the fee, saying it violates the First Amendment by singling out business activity nude erotic dancing that is protected expression, even if it's unpopular.

But the state is appealing the District Court ruling, and Texas is still collecting the fee.

On Wednesday, during arguments before the state 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas Solicitor General James Ho, representing the state, argued that since it's legal to ban nudity and it's legal to ban alcohol consumption, there's nothing wrong with a "modest fee" for environments that offer both.

But Craig Enoch, representing a group of adult cabarets, said before a packed courtroom that the charge which he called a tax is not about alcohol. Otherwise, he said, "the state could tax the Catholic Church" for distributing alcohol at Communion.

The three-judge panel did not issue a ruling Wednesday.

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Bellaire, author of legislation that created the fee, said she plans to file a bill that would lower the fee to about $3 per patron and would direct the money only to anti-assault programs, not health insurance. That comes after last year's District Court ruling, in which Judge Scott Jenkins found that the state showed a link between strip clubs and sexual violence but failed to show a link between strip clubs and a lack of adequate health insurance.

Cohen said funds for anti-assault programs are crucial because more than 50 Texas counties are not served by a rape crisis center. The centers advocate for assault victims, provide counseling, operate a hot line and run prevention programs.

Torie Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said there are waiting lists for the counseling services.

"We're in desperate need for more money," Camp said.

If the state ultimately loses the legal battle, Texas would return to the clubs the money already collected, said R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs.

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