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Cohen pulls strip club bill

The battle of the strip club bills is over, as Rep. Ellen Cohen has pulled her bill, thus killing it for the session.

She said “it was clear there was an attempt to find a point of order” — a type of parliamentary maneuver — to kill her measure. So she postponed her measure until after the end of the legislative session, effectively abandoning it. She said she decided to focus instead on fighting for the fee that’s being challenged in court.

The Legislature in 2007 passed a $5-per-patron strip club fee that Cohen proposed. The money was supposed to go toward health insurance for low-income Texans and programs to prevent sexual assault and help victims.

But a judge struck it down, and this year, Cohen proposed tweaking the fee. The state is appealing.

Cohen’s proposal this session was to lower the fee to about $3 per patron and to direct the money only to anti-assault programs, not health insurance. Last year, State District Judge Scott Jenkins found that the state showed a link between strip clubs and sexual violence but failed to show a link between strip clubs and a lack of health insurance.

Judging by what I was seeing on Twitter while this was going on, Rep. Harold Dutton appears to have been the main point-of-order wielder. Even if Rep. Cohen had pressed on, the alternate bill, Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s HB982, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, had a trick up its sleeve.

In a highly unusual vote, the Texas Senate rescinded its earlier final approval of a bill allowing for a new tax on strip clubs — not to fix a wording problem, but to help settle a personal battle in the House.

The issue is between two state representatives from Houston — Ellen Cohen and Senfronia Thompson.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of Thompson’s bill that passed Tuesday, said Thompson wanted to ensure that her bill prevails over a similar measure by Cohen. Cohen’s bill would add a mandatory $3 entry fee on strip clubs, while Thompson’s proposal — one favored by strip club owners — would impose a voluntary tax.

After getting the earlier vote rescinded — a move that veteran senators said they had never seen happen — Corona made it clear he did it at Thompson’s request, not some “big policy issue out there.

“This is all about Representative Thompson and Representative Cohen. It’s their battle,” Carona said. “Senfronia called on me just because she and I have worked successfully on a lot of bills over the years. I guess she figures I was either dumb enough or tough enough to get it passed. I’m still trying to figure out which one.”

The Senate on Tuesday had given final approval to the voluntary tax, and the bill was on its way to the governor. Then, Cohen’s bill came up for debate in the House, meaning it might pass after Thompson’s bill did.

Since the last bill to hit the governor’s desk prevails, Thompson wanted to ensure that her bill would be last.

Of course, it may get vetoed once it gets there, as the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault opposes HB982, and it counts Anita Perry as a board member, so if her word carries any weight, that will be that. At least one other prominent Republican woman has come out against HB982 as well. We’ll know soon enough.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know? Cohen’s bill may live again.

A compromise being brokered by Sens. John Carona, Royce West and Rep. Ellen Cohen would combine the two bills, one supported by sexual assault prevention groups, the other endorsed by the adult entertainment industry.

Though nothing is firm, the compromise bill being considered would allow the Texas Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a $5 per person strip club admissions fee, which has been tied up in litigation since that fee was instituted in 2007.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state, the fee would stay in effect, but would drop to $3. Clubs that haven’t been paying the fee would not face penalties.

If it is ruled unconstitutional, the fee would be repealed, and the state would charge strip clubs a tax of at least 10 percent on admissions fees. The tax would do what the current fee is designed to do — raise money for sexual assault services. Clubs that have been paying the current $5 fee would be refunded with interest.

It ain’t over till it’s over, I guess.

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  1. Baby Snooks says:

    Well I hope at some point Ellen Cohen manages to ask the Texas Attorney General’s Office why rape victims are forced to pay for their rap kits which quite frankly seems to be more important than raising additional funding for advocacy organizations that don’t do anything to begin with.

    If they did, there wouldn’t be a problem with the rape kits. According to Houston Area Women’s Center, they were unaware of the problem. Which means Ellen Cohen was unaware of the problem. Doesn’t speak well of her years as executive director of Houston Area Women’s Center. Or of Houston Area Women’s Center.

    It also doesn’t speak well of TAASA which of course is the driving force behind Ellen Cohen’s bill.

  2. becky says:

    This one just confounded me until I looked at it bit differently. This really isn’t about getting money for sexual assault services. It’s about that “moral thinking” about SOBs – which I’m really tired of. If the same logic were in place for bars/stores and special taxes on alcohol being routed to AA and other alcohol abuse services, I might buy it. Guess that lobby is way too powerful….