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“Dishonest Legislation”: Sex-shop owners fighting Calderon’s proposed 25 percent tax

California- Sex shops and strip clubs would have to pay an extra 25 percent tax on their sales and services under a proposed state law meant to offset the costs of allowing such businesses into a community.

But California’s $4 billion-a-year adult industry has attacked the proposal by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Montebello, [pictured] as unconstitutional and based more on opinion than on fact.

Adult-business owners in Orange County say the tax would put strippers out of business and break sex shops that already must abide by strict rules about where they can operate.

“I don’t know how this business has any kind of bad reputation,” said Jerry Tatarian, the manager of the Flamingo Theater, a strip club in Anaheim. “You walk in here on your own free will. We don’t show anything outside. We’re just a regular business.”

“Twenty five percent?” he added. “What’s he trying to do, become a partner?”

On the other side of the debate are teacher unions, which see a new line of revenue for districts hard-hit by budget cuts and layoffs. The sex tax would essentially target luxury items, said Linda Barnett, the president of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association.

“If you can afford to buy… whatever… you can afford to pay tax on it,” she said. “I would say they’re not necessities, though I’m sure some people would disagree with me.”

The bill would add the 25 percent tax to any items sold in an “adult entertainment venue.” That would be anyplace that gets at least half of its revenue from sexually explicit performances or from the sale of adult videos, magazines or other media.

In other words, you would have to pay a 25 percent tax on anything you bought in a porn store – even a pack of gum.

Calderon’s bill says that strip clubs, sex stores and other adult venues generate community problems such as prostitution, drug use and sexually transmitted diseases. It also says the easy availability of Internet pornography is unhealthy for children.

The tax would pay for education as well as social services that could include law enforcement and treatment for substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

But Matt Gray, a contract lobbyist for the adult entertainment industry, called the bill the “single most dishonest piece of legislation I have ever seen, and I have seen some doozies.”

The industry has challenged the legality of Calderon’s bill, saying that it targets sexually explicit performances at strip clubs, but makes exceptions for “legitimate” theatrical productions. Gray also dismissed many of the claims made in the bill, saying they were based more on opinion than on studies or other real evidence.

Adult-business owners in Orange County said they’ve already been struggling in recent months as the struggling economy and the Internet draw away their customers. They pointed out that municipal zoning laws already limit them to certain areas, away from schools and churches.

“What about bars?” said Denyse Reasinger, the manager of Fantasia Video & More, a strip-mall shop on the western edge of Anaheim. “Are they going to do it to bars, too? I mean, there’s more trouble with bars and alcohol than with some couple coming it to get romance-enhancing items. They’re just going to go home.”

In Santa Ana, Don Lake was checking IDs outside of the Ecstasy Theatre on a recent morning. “It’s just another scam, because (state legislators) don’t know where to get the money,” he said.

“It’s so much like colonial times, when Great Britain would come into pubs, see people playing cards and slap a tax on them.”

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