Texas Holding More Than $11 Million in Strip Club Fees

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Texas strip clubs have paid the state more than $11 million in fees collected from patrons as part of a law enacted in 2007.

But the money hasn't gone to its intended purpose -- funding sexual assault services for Texas counties without any -- because of an ongoing First Amendment lawsuit.

The Texas Comptroller's Office has collected $11.2 million from the $5-per-patron fee, but the money remains in state coffers because of the lawsuit, which pits the state against some of the sexually oriented businesses, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.

In addition, only some of the clubs are paying the money, and the $11.2 million is far short of the $40 million that legislative analysts projected for the law's first year, the newspaper reported.

A state district judge struck down the law last year, saying topless dancing was protected as free speech and that the state couldn't show a link between strip clubs and inadequate health insurance. The state has appealed.

The author of the 2007 bill, Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Bellaire, has sponsored a new version this year, dropping the cover charge to $3 and sending all proceeds to sexual assault programs. Although she says the measure resolves the constitutional issues, lawyers for the clubs say they will fight it as well.

"We will continue to fight until they stop filing unconstitutional legislation," said Stewart Whitehead, an attorney for the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents more than half the topless clubs in the state. "These changes don't get them around the fact that they are taxing constitutionally protected speech."

R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs, said if the law is upheld, businesses that haven't paid the fees will face financial penalties. If the law is overturned, all collected money will be returned to the clubs, he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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