Thursday, March 06, 2008

Florida Helping Seniors

Florida is contemplating a pole tax to help seniors.
It’s not often that 77-year-old women and strip clubs are mentioned in the same breath, but state Rep. Rick Kriseman made just such a connection.

If passed, Kriseman’s “Personal Needs” bill would levy a $1 surcharge on admission to adult-entertainment clubs and similar businesses. The money would be diverted to the personal-needs allowances of seniors on Medicaid in nursing homes, state-run mental hospitals and developmentally disabled centers.

Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said the inspiration for the bill came from a 77-year-old female constituent of his.

“A woman by the name of Cecilia brought this problem to my attention,” Kriseman said via telephone last week from his St. Petersburg office. “Seniors have very little money for when they go on field trips … if they want to get their hair done. And when they go out to eat, they’re going to places like McDonald’s because they can’t afford anything else. That’s not a knock on McDonald’s, but it’s probably not the healthiest food for our seniors to eat.”

Kriseman said seniors on Medicaid currently receive $35 a month for all of their personal needs — toiletries, fast food, movie tickets — a figure that has remained the same for 20 years. Kriseman’s bill would double that allowance to $70 a month.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, said he’d have to study the particulars more closely before passing final judgment, but that it sounds like a good idea on the surface.

“I’m normally not in favor of tax increases, but these difficult budgetary times call for creative solutions, and this is certainly worth discussing,” Aronberg said. “To me, it sounds like a racy Robin Hood — take from the strippers and give to the seniors.”

Kriseman’s original bill would have done just that. A closer look, however, showed that adult-entertainment services were already subject to a sales tax, so he amended the bill from taxing such services as lap dances to attaching a surcharge to admission fees.

“There are additional surcharges on things such as alcohol and cigarettes, and I thought that a $1 surcharge on admission to adult-entertainment clubs was high enough to fund the increase for seniors, yet not so high that club owners were going to argue that it would kill their business,” Kriseman said.

Kriseman’s bill defines adult-entertainment services as “private shower shows; peep shows; nude, semi-nude, or topless waitressing; lap, friction, couch, or table dancing; erotic massages or performance; nude photo sessions; and personal escort services.”

Representatives from Fantasy’s at the Beach in Fort Myers Beach, and Lookers and Escapades Gentlemen’s Club in Fort Myers could not be reached for comment.

Kriseman bristled when asked what he thought about his bill commonly being referred to as the “stripper tax.”

“I don’t care for it at all,” he said. “This is about personal needs and getting our seniors the dignity they deserve. It’s already been 20 years since the last increase, and to make them wait another year, two years or five years wouldn’t be right.”

To become law, Kriseman’s bill must be approved by the House and Senate. The next legislative session runs March 4 to May 2.

“If it doesn’t pass then, it won’t happen this year,” Kriseman said. “If that’s the case, I’ll reintroduce it at a later date.”