Sex shop tax bill in Senate

Thursday, February 24, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:04 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Describing Missouri as a “hotbed” for pornography, a Republican senator from Jackson County is pushing for new taxes on the industry.

But another Republican senator from the same county says the bill is less of an attempt to generate new revenue than it is a move to shut down these adult businesses.

The Missouri Senate debated Senate Bill 32, proposed by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, on Wednesday. The bill would impose a $5 admission fee per patron and a 20 percent tax on gross receipts for sexually oriented businesses. Ten percent of a business’ merchandise would have to be sexually related before it would become subject to the tariffs.

Bartle said lenient restrictions on pornography have caused the industry to boom in Missouri.

“All over the state of Missouri, sexually oriented businesses have popped up like mushrooms after a cool rain in gaudy metal buildings with loud signs,” Bartle said. “They have taken over our roadways.”

Rep. Bob Johnson, a fellow Republican from Jackson County, said approval of the bill could mark the end for porn shops.

“The true objective is not to raise revenue. The true objective, to my understanding, is to eliminate the industry,” he said.

Bartle, however, said he anticipates shop owners will cover patrons’ admission fees and that he holds no illusions about the new taxes’ potential to shut down the industry.

John Hawkins, owner of Eclectics in Columbia, said if the bill passes, he will have to work extra hours and that, in order to stay in business, he will be forced to charge patrons the $5 fee rather than cover it for them. Any corresponding loss of business, he said, would force him to close.

Bartle said porn shops are harmful to minors, cause property values to drop and can cause an increase in the incidence of rape.

There is no proof that any of those allegations is true, Johnson said. “I think it’s just a smokescreen to trample the First Amendment rights in terms of … commercial free speech,” he said.

The First Amendment is precisely the reason these businesses will endure, Bartle said.

“Courts will not allow states to outlaw these businesses,” he said. “Some states have tried, and courts have squarely said that the First Amendment will not allow states to do that.”

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