Strip club 'pole tax' proposed to help ease rape kit backlog

June 13, 2012 4:44:50 PM PDT
A Houston City Council member Wednesday proposed a plan to help counter the backlog of rape kits in Houston by taxing adult businesses. According to the proposal, the so-called "pole tax" could raise up to $3 million per year.

The idea is not exactly new. Adult entertainment establishments already have to pay a $5 fee statewide. And now the same person who introduced that legislation wants to make a new city ordinance in the same vein.

Along the Richmond strip, dancers we talked to say money is rarely an issue for their customers.

"They don't make it through the door if they have a problem paying for anything, any access. I don't think they would have a problem with it," said dancer Brittany Elise.

If Council Member Ellen Cohen gets her way, adult dance clubs in Houston will be required to pay an extra $5 fee for every customer who walks in through the door.

"It's nude and semi-nude, it's where alcohol is being served, and it's very similar to what passed in the state level," said Council Member Cohen.

She should know. In 2007, Cohen was the driving force behind the passage of a similar $5 fee state wide in the legislature. That legislation was upheld in the Texas Supreme Court. Cohen would like the Houston fee to go toward testing of backlogged rape kits.

"We have a problem, and this amendment is the solution," Cohen said. "The survivors of sexual assault crimes deserve justice, and this proposal provides a practical avenue towards accomplishing that goal. Last week, city council took the first steps towards creating a truly independent crime lab, and this amendment will further that work and ensure that Houston is seen as the model of forensic science."

Mayor Annise Parker stopped short of endorsing the budget amendment outright.

"I think it's an idea worth exploring. I think there will be some productive discussions among council members," said Mayor Parker.

If passed by City Council, the fee could generate millions a year. But one club manager has his doubts; not about whether a city could levy such a fee, but whether they can actually enforce it.

"Are they going to have a city employee standing at the door with a counter? How do they know how many people I have coming through my door?" said the manager.

The proposed budget amendment about the $5 fee will be among dozens of amendments debated by City Council members next week.


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