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The strip club tax is on the table

Among the things that conference committee members will be discussing as they try to finalize the budget is a reworking of the strip club tax that was first passed in 2007.

This session, while awaiting a ruling on the case from the Texas Supreme Court, lawmakers attempted a preemptive strike. Fearing, as lower courts have suggested, that linking strip clubs to health insurance was too big of a stretch, they easily added language to a large health reform bill directing all of the strip club fee’s revenues — originally estimated at $87 million over two years — to sexual assault victims and prevention. That measure, Senate Bill 23, died on the clock in the House.

The strip club language is back in the special session — first on Senate Bill 7, a sweeping health reform bill, and now as an amendment to Senate Bill 1, a fiscal matters bill that contains the state’s school finance plan. But it’s in trouble.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock and the author of SB 1, says the purpose of the bill is to fund state government and schools, not to be a landing pad for controversial legislation. He said his colleagues in the upper chamber are lobbying hard on both sides of the issue and that he doesn’t see the provision sticking as lawmakers work out their differences in conference committee.

“I’m trying to be a traffic cop,” he said. “I’m trying to keep a lot of things off of it.”

But supporters of the strip club fee say all kinds of other controversial amendments have been added to SB 1 and don’t seem to be at risk of being killed.

“The courts reviewing the bill … have made it clear that [using the revenue for health insurance] is not a good fit,” said Mica Mosbacher, an advocate for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and a sexual assault survivor. “SB 1 provides a remedy.”

Maybe if it were linked to abortion somehow, that would break the stalemate. The House wants this in, the Senate is dithering as you can see. Speaking of which, the State Supreme Court heard the appeal of the strip club tax lawsuit in March of 2010, which is to say 14 months ago. You just can’t rush these things.

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