A little over a month ago, I wrote about the Republican War on Strip Clubs, that being HB 244. The bill, which sought to help victims of human trafficking, with a $5,000 fee or 1% of gross revenue per year, whichever is greater which would be funneled to a new commission created for the sole purpose of victim safe harbor and rehabilitation, it expanded civil forfeiture practices, and in its original form, even managed to make it a misdemeanor for court clerks who inadvertently didn’t collect this fee.
HB 244 faced huge hurdles. After two Judiciary Non-Civil subcommittee hearings, eight amendments, and a complete removal of the adult entertainment industry fee/tax, the bill passed out of subcommittee without a recommendation never to receive a full hearing before Crossover Day. Members of the subcommittee had great concern over the collection of ‘indirectly related assets’ for civil forfeiture, the creation of a new commission, and of course, the new “fee.”
Unfortunately, my own ignorance prevented me from checking to see if there was a Senate counterpart to this bill and to my dismay, there was. Is. Sponsored by Republican Senator Renee Unterman, Senate Bill 8 eased out of committee and skated through a floor vote with only 3 dissenting votes very early on in the session. (A big thank you to the three, Senators H. Hill, Heath, & McKoon, by the way.)
The bill, heard in the House Juvenile Justice today for the 3rd straight day of hearings, has excellent intentions. In fact, I don’t think you’ll find a single sane person anywhere in Georgia who would oppose combating human trafficking and working to strengthen consequences to those convicted. But this bill does very little to achieve that. The committee presented a slew of testimony, some from actual victims with painfully compelling stories. Stories detailing their trafficking experiences, in strip clubs, on the streets, in hotels, massage parlors, and most prevalent, online. They were comforted by the many 501c(3) organizations who have been working with them for years, all of whom were sitting in the audience.
Today, in committee, Rep. Regina Quick made a motion to amend the language of ‘fee’ to a ‘tax’ with regard to the adult entertainment establishment charge. Rep. Andy Welch instead proposed a substitute to amend the word ‘fee’ (and ‘tax’) to ‘assessment.’ A brief Google search tells us that an ‘assessment’ is when you ‘establish a value’ of something. Something like property. This isn’t an assessment. It is a war on a specific type of business. One that many don’t like.
This bill screams of improper functions of government. It sets an unyielding precedent on the taxation of businesses “just because”. It tells all the organizations sitting in the audience that they are not quite doing their job efficiently enough and that government can, and will, do it better, unless of course these organizations stand to gain something from this legislation being passed – perhaps from some sort of commission that receives money. The term ‘assessment’ sets the state up for a series of lawsuits when these establishments come crying for being
feed taxed assessed unjustly and inappropriately.
And still, worst of all, it is dishonest. This is not a fee. It is so much not a fee that we have made an acknowledgement of such in the move to make it an ‘assessment.’ It is a tax but taxes cannot Constitutionally begin in the Senate. (See what they did there?)
SB 8 is up for a committee vote tomorrow at 3pm before Juvenile Justice and could quite possibly make it to the House floor as one of the worst bills of the 2015 session. Which is saying a lot.