Two Texas lawmakers are proposing another tax on strip clubs.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and Representative Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, say they will file legislation within the week that will raise millions for sexual assault programs and indigent health care in the Lone Star State -- at the expense of the patrons of strip clubs.
You may remember the dust-up a few years ago over the 'tassel tax' -- a $5 surcharge on entry to men's clubs that Governor Rick Perry and Representative Will Hartnett proposed to help the state out of its school finance conundrum.
Back then the surcharge went down in flames -- along with the rest of Perry's funding proposals.
But now the $5 cover fee on strip clubs is back -- and its chances are better than ever according to the bill's authors.
Kelly said the bill could pump as much as $12 million into programs for victims of sexual assault.
"We're very optimistic," said Cohen's Chief of Staff Bill Kelly. Kelly said the bill would impose a $5 fee per person upon entry to gentlemen's clubs across the state. It would be collected quarterly and would generate an estimated $40 million per year.
Kelvin Bass in Senator West's office said his boss became interested in the bill after a "ready-to-open business... kind of flew under the radar screen" in Dallas County.
Bass said the adult-oriented business was setting up shop with no input from state officials.
"The community is incensed with it," Bass said. "It is out of place."
Bass said West will sponsor the bill in part because he was "looking for some impediments" -- and because, he hopes, the bill would generate revenue for uncompensated indigent health care and sexual assault programs in Texas.
Both lawmakers are aware of the fate of the last strip club tax proposal, and they appear to have planned this one to avoid those pitfalls.
"For education, it was not necessarily appropriate," Bass said.
Kelly recalled the public backlash after the tax was proposed as part of the solution to the school finance crisis.
"There was just this visceral reaction," Kelly said. He said Cohen hopes to keep the objective of the current proposal "pure."
Cohen, a freshman in the Texas House, is president and CEO of the Houston Area Women's Center, a private non-profit that is the largest shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the U.S.
Kelly said Cohen's office was approached about the bill by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) -- of which Texas First Lady Anita Perry is director of development.
"No one is insinuating that there is a direct connection" between sexual assault and patronizing men's clubs, Kelly said, but, he noted, the businesses do "objectify women," and the intent of the bill is to raise money "trying to prevent sexual assault."
Kelly said Cohen has spoken favorably with key committee chairs on the house side including Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Jim Keffer, R-Eastland. The two chair the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees -- two bodies that are key to passing tax legislation.
As for prospects for final passage, Bass said, "We'll see."