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Here we Go with the Porn Tax Idea Again

CARTHAGE, Mo. – It’s a tax that will affect no one and generate no revenue for Jasper County at this time, but one county leader hopes it will receive overwhelming backing from voters on Nov. 4.

But a local attorney says the proposed tax may have constitutional problems and he thinks the tax is unnecessary.

“I’m always amazed how people are for free expression when it’s their expression that’s being protected,” said Joplin attorney Bill Fleishaker. “But when it’s unpopular expression or something they disagree with, they want government to step in and do something.”

Jasper County Presiding Commissioner John Bartosh is pushing a 10 percent tax on all cabarets, or strip clubs, in Jasper County.

Currently there are no strip clubs in Jasper County, but Bartosh hopes the tax will accomplish two things.

“We don’t have any strip clubs in the county, so this tax will affect nobody right now,” Bartosh said. “When that kind of stuff comes into a county, it brings in more crime and more costs to the county, so we want the tax to cover those additional costs should they come in. Another thing is we want to send the message to those businesses that they are not welcome in Jasper County.”

Bartosh said the county would still have to determine how the tax would be collected.

“It’s hard to tell how many dollars people put in a g-string,” Bartosh said. “But the cabaret would have to report some kind of income.”

The tax stems from the rumors earlier in 2008 that a Wichita, Kan., club owner was building a strip club at the interchange between County Road 100 and Interstate 44.

Eventually the club owner opened an adult video store at the interchange, but residents in the area and across Jasper County formed a group to stop the opening of a strip club and pressure the county commission to enact new regulations on those businesses.

Fleishaker, who represented the Wichita club owner, said he never planned to open a strip club at the interchange.

Fleishaker said he assumes the tax will pass overwhelmingly, but someone who wants to open a strip club could challenge the tax on the First Amendment grounds of free expression.

“If someone comes in and challenges the tax and wins, the county will be on the hook for all that challenger’s attorney fees and other costs,” Fleishaker said. “I don’t know that the tax is necessary and it will probably be one more thing on the books that may or may not be effective.

“I think we would be talking about a freedom of expression issue of whether or not the tax represses the freedom of people to express themselves in a certain way.”

Fleishaker said the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld restrictions on public nudity, but there are still questions about how much covering people must wear and where they can wear those coverings.

“There is not much question about the ban on total nudity in public places, but somewhere between total nudity and a turtleneck sweater lives an area that is protected,” Fleishaker said. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I don’t have any clients interested in challenging the issue right now, but I’ve always thought letting the free market decide issues like this was better than having government regulation.”

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