April 3, 2012
By Deborah Donovan
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon was in Arlington Heights Monday advocating for a bill in the state legislature that would tax strip club patrons to fund services for sexual assault victims.
The bill, which would require a strip club that sells or permits alcohol to charge each customer a $5 fee, will be debated in the Illinois Senate after the Easter break, Simon said during her appearance at the Northwest Center Against Sexual Assault.
“Crimes are up in areas where strip clubs serve alcohol,” said Simon. “For the folks that are customers at the clubs, they are known as soft targets. They have a lot of cash and have been drinking. And there are sexual assaults against the women who work in these establishments. They are followed home after work and stalked.”
But the main reason for the tax is to find a source of funds for the agencies that provide rape counseling but often see their budgets cut, she said.
“Counselors like these respond to sexual assault and related crimes,” said the lieutenant governor. “It's the impact of budget cuts. Counseling is a 24-7 business. We don't want to ever have to tell someone they are on a waiting list.”
The proposal is modeled on a Texas law that the state supreme court there declared constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court later declined to hear a challenge of the Texas law, Simon said.
The bill, first suggested by Illinois rape crisis counselors from places like Northwest CASA, would raise at least $6 million annually, she added.
Jim Huenink, Northwest CASA's executive director, said state funding cuts could mean the center must lay off two of its nine counselors. The organization annually serves 500 clients from 30 suburbs through its Arlington Heights office. It would open a second office in Evanston if the funding were available, Huenink said.
Northwest CASA gets $151,000 of its $550,000 budget from the state. That is a $40,000 reduction in the last few years, and Huenink expects another 10 percent cut in the next fiscal year.
Members of the strip club industry have said the tax would put some clubs out of business. There are about 50 strip clubs in the state that have liquor licenses, said Simon spokeswoman Kathryn Phillips. There are probably more than 100 clubs in Illinois, but drinking is not allowed under local regulations, she said.