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Strip clubs sue city over $5 fee

Remember the $5 per customer strip club fee that was added as a budget amendment by CM Ellen Cohen as a way to fund clearing HPD’s backlog of rape kits? The clubs threatened to sue the city at the time this was debated, and last Thursday they followed through on that threat.

CM Ellen Cohen

In the lawsuit the strip clubs argue that the $5 per-customer fee on sexually oriented businesses passed by Council in June is unconstitutional on several grounds:

  • That state law requires that fees be based on the cost of processing permits and investigating applicants, whereas Cohen pushed the fee simply to raise money for the rape kits.
  • That a city cannot levy a tax targeting an occupation unless the state has already done so. Cohen’s state legislation applies to live nude entertainment. The plaintiffs offer what the city calls “semi-nude” entertainment, so their businesses are exempt from the state fee and therefore can’t be targeted by the city.
  • That it violates state law requiring that such taxes be equal across an industry. Here the strip clubs argue that they’re being singled out by a fee because of high prostitution, violent crime and drug use near adult establishments while the areas around bars without strippers have even higher rates of such crime.
  • It’s an infringement of the right to free speech. While a state court rejected this argument as it applied to Cohen’s state legislation governing nude entertainment, the ruling did not find that the spillover crime effects justifying free-speech restrictions were not as great for businesses that present semi-nude entertainment.

The ordinance and requested council action from June can be seen on starting on pdf page 123 here.

The story doesn’t have a copy of the suit, so the best I can do is tell you that it’s case number 201260353, which you can find on the District Clerk webpage. I reviewed the history of the strip clubs’ lawsuit against the state over that fee here. I’ll leave it to the legal experts to opine whether this suit has a better chance of success than that one did.

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One Comment

  1. Lonnie Allsbrooks says:

    Good for the Strip Clubs!!! City of Houston should never single out and label a part of an Industry. The word consistency needs to be defined each week by a Council Member, than hopefully the picking and the choosing will stop, especially in the hospitality industry. The City must stop discriminating towards an Industry, that Host our City Events! Why would CM Cohen target the strip clubs by choosing a type of business in the hospitality industry(the type she doesn’t approve of and wishes they would All close. This is clearly discrimination and shame on her. The issues on the rape kits, should have been thought out with a plan on how the kit, test results etc. would be in the budget and funded. Instead the City failed by allowing a rapist to continue in harming others and could have kept an innocent individual out of prison. Another example by the City on picking and choosing is the ordinance that does not allow food trucks downtown, reasoning being, the propane tanks safety and could cause severe damages if exploded. If these food trucks were at Reliant , Galleria, Kingwood, Clear Lake, it would be approved, because propane tanks only blow up in Downtown and not in those other parts. We need to become a City who will truly support Small Business Owners, allowing them to follow our “Code of Ordinances”as others in same industry. We also need to create a policy on what happens if a City Representative makes a costly mistake ,that could prevent an entrepreneur from opening,. If City doesn’t step up and give a reassurance on these matters, ,we are going to failed as a City that No Longer has a Soul, being the Soul of all Large Cities are Small Businesses!!!

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