Seeking a solution to the bedeviling problem of untested rape evidence that is in some cases decades old, council imposed a $5-per-customer fee on strip clubs Wednesday so it can buy speedier lab work.
That simple solution, however, may come with complications of its own, starting with court costs.
“Houston has now bought itself the certainty of ongoing litigation,” said Los Angeles-based attorney John Weston, who represents the Association of Club Executives of Houston. Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said she believes the city is on solid ground because the Houston ordinance she championed is based on a $5-per-customer statewide fee she authored as a state representative. That fee was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court last year.
Cohen has said the Houston fee would raise $1 million to $3 million a year for rape evidence testing.
Collections in Houston will depend, in part, on who has to pay. Cohen estimated that about 30 clubs would be covered by her ordinance. The state has collected from 20 clubs in the city. A local attorney for the clubs said only a handful fit the city’s definition of a sexually-oriented business, while an additional 50 clubs’ entertainers wear just enough clothing to skirt the classification.
In the end, Cohen sold the ordinance to her colleagues as she declared, “We have waited long enough.” Council passed it by a vote of 14-1.
The need to clear the rape kit backlog was cited by CMs Oliver Pennington and CO Bradford as justification for their vote in favor. Given the certainty of litigation and the fact that the state-collected fee has not yet been appropriated because of that, it’s not clear to me that this will actually shorten the wait to get this done. I suspect the main question to be argued before the courts is which clubs are truly on the hook for this fee. It won’t surprise me if it’s a few years before we get an answer to that.