Debate Over Texas Strip 'Pole Tax' Heats Up

Texas strip club owners argued before the state’s Supreme Court Thursday that a "pole tax" on patrons violates free-speech protections, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The club owners said that the tax, which imposes a $5-per-visit fee on people who visit the state's roughly 170 strip clubs, is an unconstitutional limit on free expression.

But Texan officials defended the decision, arguing that promoting strip clubs leads to an increase in sexual assaults and other crimes.

"This law has a substantial deterrence effect," because higher costs typically reduce demand for a product, said James Ho, solicitor general for Texas.

A lawyer representing the strip clubs, Craig Enoch, argued that the law was merely in place to raise tax revenue.

The tax, passed in 2007, was expected to raise about $44 million over the first two years to help victims of sexual assault and to pay for low-income health insurance.

The owner of an Amarillo strip club and the Texas Entertainment Association, a trade group representing adult cabarets, filed a lawsuit against the tax prompting District Judge Scott Jenkins in Travis County to strike down the law in 2008.

The Austin appeals court last year supported Jenkins in a 2-1 ruling but two justices in the majority could not agree on voiding the tax -- one said the law ran against the First Amendment while the other said lawmakers failed to articulate their arguments for or against the law.

The ambiguous result called for the Texas Supreme Court to take up the case in February. It could take up to 13 months.