New bill may tax strip clubs to pay for rape services
Local legislator says funding is needed
By Shane Cohn 05/24/2012
Want to go to a strip club and have a few drinks?
It’s likely you’ll first have to pay a tax, if a newly proposed bill becomes state law.
Calling it a sexually oriented business tax, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara/Ventura, introduced a bill that would require a charge equal to $10 per customer who patronizes strip clubs that serve alcohol. The revenue collected from Assembly Bill 2441 would help fund vital services to victims of sexual and domestic violence, as well as cover the cost to process forensic exam (or rape) kits.
The bill states the fee would not be passed on to the entertainers, and it would be up to club owners to determine the manner in which they would pay the tax.
“There is evidence that shows a nexus between (sexual) violence and strip club establishments,” said James Joyce, spokesperson for Williams. “There is an issue of funding being decreased, and there is definitely a need to fund these vital services.”
According to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), California’s 84 rape crisis centers served around 30,000 victims in 2011. The state’s general fund contributed just $45,000 to all rape crisis centers combined, equating to about $1.50 per rape victim. The federal budget has an additional proposed cut of $800,000 to the rape set-aside fund in the 2012/2013 budget.
“It’s essential we create a new funding stream,” said Sandra Henriquez, executive director of CALCASA. “There are many elements of society that encourage and foster sexual objectification, which is at the root of sexual violence. We’re not saying strip clubs cause rape, but they contribute to its climate. A sexually oriented business tax sets precedents that take the public health approach, and can use this money to change awareness and attitudes and looking at those linkages.”
Henriquez compared the bill’s public health approach to that of the state’s cigarette tax.
Opposition to the bill comes from the Association of Club Executives (ACE), CalSmallBiz, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety.
“While helping sexual assault programs is a noble cause — ultimately, arbitrary and excessive taxes on citizens who like adult entertainment is but a steppingstone to tax other business,” said Angelina Spencer, ACE executive director. “If you tax each patron $10 per head to enter a strip club, how long will it be before an official decides it’s a great idea to tax every patron who walks into a bar to fund alcoholism recovery? When we recognize that most people are rational actors capable of weighing the consequences and benefits of their actions, the need for a Nanny State tax is diminished.”
In Texas, a $5 “pole” tax on strip club patrons was recently imposed. The law was appealed on grounds that it violates the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, but the Texas Supreme Court found the law to be constitutional. The case was also denied a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court. Utah also passed a pole tax. Five other states are now considering bills with similar language.
The only establishment offering nude entertainment in Ventura County is the Spearmint Rhino, which wouldn’t be subject to the tax because alcohol is not served.
There are 180 strip clubs in California, and according to the Board of Equalization, 80 establishments would be subject to the tax. An estimated $35 million for rape crisis centers would be generated from the tax.
AB 2441 has already cleared the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation, and is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Committee on Appropriations this week.