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Council defers on strip club fee

Tagged for a week.

Consideration of a $5-per-head fee on customers of strip clubs to pay for reducing the city’s backlog of untested rape kits has been delayed for a week.

Council members Melissa Noriega and Al Hoang both tagged the item, a parliamentary maneuver that puts off an agenda item for one week, no questions asked.

Neither Noriega nor Hoang said they were against the plan but wanted more time to consider the measure, which was introduced a week ago by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen.

I suspect this will go through in the end. The clubs themselves are unsurprisingly not happy at the prospect, but their main argument against is unlikely to strike fear in anyone’s heart.

Al Van Huff, lawyer for several Houston-area strip clubs, said the city can expect a court fight.

“It sounds great if you’re a politician,” Van Huff said. “The reality of the situation is, it’s going to be expensive for the city to attempt to impose such a tax on these businesses.”

Enforcing a city ordinance also could be complicated. Cohen estimated that about 30 clubs would be affected. Van Huff said fewer than a handful of clubs fit the city’s definition of a sexually oriented business, while an additional 50 clubs’ entertainers wear just enough clothing to skirt the classification.

The fee unfairly targets clubs with the intent of making them unprofitable and forcing their closure, Van Huff said. The clubs already are responsible for taxes as well as the state fee, he said.

The State Supreme Court upheld the legality of the state fee, and the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling. That case isn’t the be-all and end-all, it was strictly about the constitutional free speech issue, so the clubs may find a more promising avenue for litigation, but again the historical record is against them, as their suit against the 1997 SOB law ultimately went nowhere. Whether or not you approve of the idea, I don’t see litigation as a big threat to it.

Meanwhile, another budget item moves forward.

City Council‘s Ethics, Elections and Council Governance Committee will consider a charter amendment ballot proposition to change term limits from six to 12 years.

Councilman Andrew Burks proposed doubling Council terms from two to four years and keeping the three-term limit in place. Houston voters would have to approve a ballot measure to change current term limits, which are more than two decades old.

The committee would review ballot language, which Burks says will save the city $3 million each two years by reducing the number of elections for the mayor, 16 Council members and controller. Councilwoman Wanda Adams is a co-sponsor of the Burks proposal, which was submitted last week as a budget amendment.

The full Council would have to act by Aug. 20 to place language on the November ballot.

Burks said two-year terms are so short that “We really can’t get anything done” because Council members need to campaign for re-election. Extending terms “improves upon the ability of Council members and mayor to do a better job,” he said.

Councilwoman Helena Brown and Oliver Pennington voted against sending the matter to a Council committee.

“Four years is too long a time for change-out if we’re not doing our job right,” Brown said.

My thoughts exactly, Helena. If this gets approved, it will be yet another referendum on the fall ballot. Get ready to do a lot of voting, y’all.

And finally, there was the plastic bag issue.

Council has approved a budget amendment ordering city officials to consider doing something about the litter problems presented by plastic bags or even to phase them out.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez’s original amendment called for preparing an ordinance within a year that would address a bag ban. Gonzalez spoke of looking to Austin, where a plastic bag ban is in effect, as a possible model.

Numerous speakers criticized the proposal at Tuesday’s public session. The amendment was watered down Tuesday night to say the city should only ”address phasing out plastic bags” and deleted mention of an ordinance. At the Council table today, Councilman Oliver Pennington further softened the proposal by adding language calling on the city to “address littering by plastic bags or phasing out plastic bags.”

Not really sure what that amounts to, but we’ll see. I’m still perfectly fine with the idea of charging a fee for plastic bags and using that money to clean up trash around the city.

UPDATE: In the end, the budget was approved, along with a few other amendments.

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5 Comments

  1. IMO that’s NOT the best argument against the strip club fee. The best argument is that misbegotten prudery doesn’t justify the spurious, fact-free “link” postulate by fee proponents between strip clubs and sex crimes. Even sources cited by proponents of the fee say that “no study has authoritatively linked alcohol, sexually-oriented-businesses, and the perpetration of sexual violence.” Why single out for harm a handful of local businesses who employ people, pay taxes, etc., when there’s simply no evidence they contribute to the problem?

    If the city wants the backlog tested, they should increase the crime lab budget from the general fund, plain and simple.

  2. Bill Kelly says:

    While I get they are legal businesses, do you know of any person who wants a club in their neighborhood? I’d say they aren’t great for property values or crime statistics in their areas.

  3. becky says:

    I agree with Grits – seems like a lame way to create some funding…

  4. joshua bullard says:

    the time and money i am going to invest in unseating andrew c burks from office ,is going to be staggering,i cant wait to see his face when i get the voters of the city to go with someone else,who thats going to be, i dont know,but what i do know is burks goes in 2013-as for the mayor and all council members-i would only agree to term limits extended if it does not apply to any of the current council members or the mayor.The mayor should proceeed with caution on this issue-if she goes with an extention at this point it will certainly result in a heavy revolt by the right voters and result in this being her last term,with the amount of incumbents being voted out,this is not the right time for this issue,it will essentially clear the board…

    as for ellen cohen’s proposal,i supported ellen cohen for my kids-not for me,for my kids,just in case i am wrong on a few issues,i suspect ellen cohen will cover the base for the kids sake.

    stated as fact

    joshua ben bullard

  5. Lonnie Allsbrooks says:

    Passing the strip fee is placing a fine on the club and their guest. All business owners are given an occupancy after they have complied to all inspections and demands from the City of Houston “Code of Enforcement”. Strip clubs, along with all other clubs(dance, sports, live music, etc) already pay large amounts of taxes, after the hell they experience prior to receiving their CO. If the blame game is going to be played, than blame the bookstores, internet sites, movie theater, churches and all other meeting places that can lead you to a sexual behavior. What’s next, all alcohol establishments will have to charge a fee to support those who have 4, 5, 10 DUI’s and are released by the government or the fee charge to the gay clubs, so all those who decide to be gay can get therapy. Enough is Enough!!! Let’s create jobs, support all legal small businesses, create more crime awareness groups and start working together and not against one another, especially those who have invested their money in our City and following all the existing laws!!!