tampabay.com

Strip club surcharge would aid elderly

Two bay area legislators want $1 a visit to go to nursing home residents.

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2008


TALLAHASSEE - Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers want to put a $1 tax on strip club admissions so they can give low-income nursing home residents more spending money.

Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said he got the idea after an elderly constituent complained that a $35 monthly stipend for Medicaid recipients was not enough to cover personal needs, such as haircuts, clothing and movie tickets.

"I'm sorry if I've taken a dollar that you would have otherwise stuck in someone's garter," said Kriseman, who is sponsoring the legislation with Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon.

The adult entertainment industry says it will fight the bill, which aims to increase the Medicaid allowance to $70 a month.

"Everyone I mention it to has one word for it: stupid," scoffed Joe Redner, owner of the Mons Venus in Tampa, which carries a $20 cover charge.

"It's a noble cause. Old people should have some money," Redner added. "But they should get it from everybody, not just us."

The Florida Sunshine Entertainment Association, a newly formed trade group, sent out an e-mail warning about the legislation.

Constitutional law experts offer mixed opinions. "Singling out strip clubs to bear the burden of an unrelated social program appears arbitrary and capricious," said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University.

"In the end," he said, "they will spend more money in litigation than they'll ever get from these fees."

But University of Florida law professor Joe Little thinks the tax would pass muster because the Legislature has the ability to create revenue streams and devote that money to certain causes.

A legal squabble might not even matter. Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, have a strong aversion to new taxes, so the bill's chances of passing are slim.

The original bill sought to extend sales taxes to strip club admissions, but Render insisted that already happens, laughing at Kriseman's apparent flub.

The Department of Revenue confirmed strip clubs already are subject to sales tax. The Times then contacted Kriseman's office and, after some scrambling, the idea for a $1 surcharge was developed on Wednesday.

Texas this year imposed a $5 tax on strip club customers, with the estimated $40-million a year going to help rape victims. But the law is being challenged in court.

Owners say it infringes on First Amendment rights to free expression and say the inference to sex crimes is unfair.

Little thinks the First Amendment issue could be used in Florida, if the bill became law.

"If someone can make a credible argument - and I'm not sure they can - that puts this in a different posture," he said.

The 77-year-old St. Petersburg woman whose situation prompted the bill thinks it's a great idea.

"If people can afford to go to these places," Cecelia Baci said, "they can afford to pay a little more for us."