Tenn. Lawmaker Proposes Tax on Adult Material

Michael Hayes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Rep. Stacey Campfield said he will introduce a bill in the state legislature to impose a tax on pornography, with the revenue from the measure going toward a reduction in state sales tax for groceries.

Campfield, who said he is in the process of researching and drafting the bill, said the law would likely apply to material that minors were legally prohibited from purchasing, but it would not include R-rated movies.

Several state officials, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, said they thought the proposal would most likely be unconstitutional.

In addition to adult movies, Campfield said he was exploring the idea of expanding the proposed bill’s taxable territory by including exotic dance clubs as well.

While Campfield has not determined the size of the tax, he said the goal is to raise enough revenue to allow the repeal of a 6 percent state sales tax on groceries.

“It's a different swap tax: Remove the sales tax on groceries and raise the tax on pornography,” Campfield said.

According to legislative estimates, the sales tax on groceries accounts for $450 million per year in revenue for the state. Campfield said he would use similar research methods to determine the size and impact of the retail pornography business in the state to calculate the proposed tax on adult content.

“The porn industry is probably much more powerful and much more profitable than most people realize in Tennessee,” Campfield said.

Dr. Stan Chervin, who serves as a senior research associate for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, said a tax on adult entertainment wouldn’t generate enough revenue to allow lawmakers to repeal the tax on food.

“What's he going to do? Charge $2 million on a Playboy magazine?” asked Chervin.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee, said such a tax would face legal challenges, pointing out that the proposed law seemed both impermissibly vague and that it would likely have a chilling effect on free speech.

Gov. Bredesen had a humorous reaction to Campfield’s idea.

“I hope he will take a quick look at the Constitution before he comes by the office,” Bredesen said. “I'd like it if we could put a tax on articles that are critical of the governor.”

Campfield said he didn’t think his bill would be unconstitutional because, unlike one proposed by state Sen. Doug Jackson, it was only a tax, not a ban.

“My bill is a tax. His [Jackson's] is a ban,” Campfield said. “If somebody wants to buy 'Debbie Does Dallas,' they can pay a little extra for it.”

Jackson’s bill would outlaw the broadcast of advertising that promotes material deemed “harmful to minors.” The legislation cites “Girls Gone Wild” TV advertisements as an example of the kind of content to be regulated.