AUSTIN (AP) _ A state district judge ruled Friday that Texas may not collect a $5-per-customer strip club fee that went into effect in January.

Judge Scott Jenkins wrote in an opinion that the fee, "while furthering laudable goals, violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is therefore invalid."

The Texas Entertainment Association Inc., which is a group of topless clubs, and Karpod Inc., the owner of an Amarillo club, sued Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs over the fee.

Witnesses for the strip clubs testified at a hearing last year that the clubs would go out of business if they had to collect an additional $5-per-patron fee.

The $5 fee, proposed by state Rep. Ellen Cohen, a Houston Democrat, was projected to raise about $44 million for sexual assault prevention programs and health care for the uninsured.

The fee went into effect Jan. 1. The first payments to the state were to be made in April.

The state could appeal Jenkins' ruling.

Lawyers for the state had said the Legislature was within its rights to impose the fee on businesses that serve alcohol and offer nude performances.

Cohen said it's largely an industry that employs women and said the fee would raise money for a crime that affects women. She said the fees to gain admission to nude entertainment clubs can be $10 or $15 and that she doubted another $5 would prevent someone from going.

Attorneys for the state have argued that the fee does not prohibit nude dancing, does not regulate what entertainers wear and does not regulate the businesses in other ways.

Information from the Austin American-Statesman:

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.