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Strip clubs ask Texas high court to stop fee collection

AUSTIN — An association representing strip clubs asked the Texas Supreme Court on Monday to stop the state from collecting a new fee that a trial court has ruled unconstitutional.

The state has already received $3.3 million in payments from the clubs in their initial quarterly payments due last month.

The emergency petition is designed to prevent clubs from having to remit the fee while the state appeals a March ruling from a Travis County state district judge.

The Texas Entertainment Association has attempted to stop collection of the fee, arguing that some clubs would be forced into closure by the expense. The group was turned down last month by the Third Court of Appeals.

In the ruling on the constitutionality, a judge said the $5-per-patron fee is unconstitutional because the state failed to link the First Amendment-protected activity to the programs being funded by the tax. He halted collection of the tax at that time, but his ruling was automatically stayed when the state appealed.

The Legislature enacted the adult entertainment fee, effective Jan. 1, and dedicated the money to sexual assault prevention and low-income health care. It was expected to raise more than $25 million a year.

R.J. DeSilva, a spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs, said the comptroller’s office is checking records from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to determine if all clubs have remitted their taxes.

Although the state based the fee on a per-patron basis, clubs are not required to add the cost to their entry fees.

Much of the money is being administered to legal and victim services groups through the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said the money has not been disbursed to organizations yet, and he declined to comment on when the funds would be distributed.

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