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.
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.