Georgia Contemplates ‘Sin Tax’ on Strip Clubs

Rhett Pardon

ATLANTA — A plan to tax Georgia strip clubs to help fund a program for victims of sex trafficking won approval from a state Senate committee yesterday and moves forward in the Legislature.

Under Georgia House Bill 244, adult entertainment businesses would be required to pay 1 percent or $5,000 of their annual profits to the fund, which would pay for the care, housing and other services for those who’ve been sexually exploited. 

The legislation, which allows for other provisions, now moves on from its second read to a House non-civil judiciary panel.

Language of the bill attempts to connect “adult entertainment establishments that provide to their patrons performances and interaction involving various forms of nudity” to prostitution and sexual exploitation of children.

Called Rachel’s Law in reference to a now-rehabilitated child sex trafficking victim, HB 244 states that “it is necessary and appropriate to adopt uniform and reasonable fees and regulations [upon the strip clubs] to help address the deleterious secondary effects.”

The bill also includes provisions to allow law enforcement to seize property of convicted sex traffickers and require them to register as sex offenders.

States like Illinois, Nevada and Texas already have instituted so-called “pole taxes.”

Georgia has more than 100 strip clubs that could be affected by a tax — 50 alone in Atlanta.

HB 244 targets entertainment establishments that consists of nude or “substantially nude” persons dancing in a sexual nature.

Adult industry attorney Lawrence Walters of Walters Law Group in Longwood, Fla., said that the Georgia bill represents a “sin tax” and that the war on human trafficking has become “the war on porn, rebranded.”

“Given the failure to make any headway in the war on porn, censors and erotophobes have begun to use the public’s fear of ‘human trafficking’ as a basis to push through all kinds of dubious legislation,” Walters told XBIZ. “This ‘sin tax’ on adult entertainment is an example of these efforts. 

“Historically, singling out a specific category of speech, like adult entertainment, for a special tax, was considered unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” he said. “But recently, an appeals court upheld such a tax in Houston, under the theory that the tax was intended to address the ‘adverse secondary effects’ of adult entertainment. 

“This is the same legal fiction used to justify various licensing and zoning restrictions on erotic speech. This is a hot area of First Amendment law, and I suspect we’ll see more of these ‘pole tax’ battles arising as states attempt to capitalize on the politically popular sex trafficking hysteria.”

Walters noted that Florida also is considering a "sin tax" on adult establishments. One Florida measure would impose entry requirements, including a $10 fee on top of any other existing admission charges. The Florida bill would also require adult businesses to keep records of customers.

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