By SHANNON McCAFFREY - Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA -- A bipartisan group of Georgia lawmakers wants to slap a new fee on strip club patrons to help fund rehabilitation programs for child prostitutes and sex abuse victims.
The fee - which some have dubbed a "pole tax" - would be between $3 and $5 for each customer at the 45 clubs around the state. State Sen. Renee Unterman (Email) said Thursday there are links between the adult entertainment industry and the underground world of child prostitution.
- So instead of making the strip joints pay the fines and taxes, you want to make the patrons?
"This is the industry that creates the problem. They're financing what they created," the Republican from Buford said.
- So go after the industry, not the people going to the places. Yes, we have a bunch of idiots running this state!
State Sen. Jack Murphy (Email) said he'll introduce the bill next week. It's unclear how much revenue it would raise.
"As a conservative, I'm not for any tax increase," the Cumming Republican said.
Still, he said rehabilitation centers for teen prostitutes will do more good than youth detentions centers that treat them as criminals.
Gov. Sonny Perdue initially proposed cutting about $500,000 in state money for the Georgia Regional Assessment Center, a therapy program for former child prostitutes. He has put the money back for now to keep the center, which is scrambling to secure longer-term funding.
But Unterman said the state is already paying for the problem through Medicaid for health and mental health problems as well as through the Department of Juvenile Justice that funds incarcerating youth.
There was no immediate comment from Perdue's office on the proposal. Republican legislative leaders have expressed reluctance to impose any new taxes to fill the state's $2.2 billion budget hole.
Strip clubs say the fee would be damaging to their business, which is already suffering in the difficult economy. They argue it would impact not just club owners and dancers but the waitresses, food workers and parking attendants who depend on the clubs for their livelihood.
Georgia's suggested fee is similar to a $5-per-customer strip club fee in 2008 that was declared unconstitutional by a state district judge. Judge Scott Jenkins wrote that the Texas fee, "while furthering laudable goals," violates the First Amendment and declared it invalid.
But backers of the proposal in Georgia said the state had addressed the constitutional concerns by funneling the money raised by the fee into a victims' right fund with the specific intent of using it for sex abuse programs.
The proposal came from a legislative study committee that met last year to look at the growing problem of child prostitution. The group estimates that between 200 to 300 children are sexually exploited in Georgia every month.
- So go after the people exploiting the children! Also, where is the study to show these "facts?"
Lawmakers in the group also introduced legislation on Thursday that would raise the minimum age for exotic dancers from 18 to 21. Another bill would expand the definition of child abuse to include any person who allows a child to engage in prostitution.