23-Aug-87 1429 MST Sb APar 08/22 1753 Fortunetelling Tax HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Life may

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23-Aug-87 14:29 MST Sb: APar 08/22 1753 Fortunetelling Tax HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) -- Life may be returning to normal for five women who earn money by telling fortunes and who had stood accused of violating a 58-year-old fortunetelling law. Municipal Judge John Homer Wright dropped the charges Friday on a request by Prosecutor Carl A. Crow Jr. The prosecutor wouldn't say whether the women would be allowed to return to telling fortunes for donations, as they had been doing when arrested. The charge was tellling fortunes without a license. The license would cost $5,300 a year -- $100 a year to the state and $100 a week to the county. However, Wright said he thinks the five could resume forecasting the future until the state Legislature clarifies the 1929 fortunetelling tax statute. "I don't think that the state is going to proceed (in enforcing the tax) until they have received some direction from the Legislature," the judge said. The women are Helen Holcomb, 62, Dollie Smith, 72, Sue Vasquez, 45, Diana Sally Marks, 67, and Ms. Marks' daughter, Dolly Marie Johnson. They were arrested in late July. Ms. Vasquez said she was happy that the charges had been dismissed, though she was not surprised. "It was an asinine law in the first place," she said. The women were to stand trial Sept. 3, facing a maximum fine of $250. However, the women said the law would put them out of business. Ms. Smith, canning tomatoes when she was arrested, said later, "I think that every reader in Arkansas would be out of business if they had to pay that." The law was discovered by David M. Love, an attorney for the Hot Springs School Board. Half of the county's take from the license fees was to go to schools. The board asked Crow that the tax be collected. Crow notified the tax collector and Sheriff Clay White of the law's existence. Sheriff's deputies then arrested the fortunetellers. Crow's motion Friday said that he never requested that the women be arrested and that the school board has asked that the women not be prosecuted. After making the arrests, the sheriff said, "I would have been violating the law myself if I didn't arrest them." Since the arrests, the school board tried to disassociate itself from the case. Love said the board was surprised with the arrests. "No one ever intended that anyone ever get arrested," Love said, "but the enforcement is beyond our control." The law was enacted apparently to regulate Gypsies who roamed the state and engaged in criminal activities as well as fortunetelling, according to Stephany Rush Slagle, attorney for Ms. Holcomb and Ms. Smith. Ms. Slagle said that Ms. Holcomb, whose family in Hot Springs goes back at least four generations, and Ms. Smith, a great-grandmother who is supplementing her Social Security payments, are not the type of people the law was intended to regulate. Ms. Holcomb said she has been reading for friends and relatives for most of her life, and that she began reading professionally in 1985, after she retired from Ouachita Hospital. She said she missed helping people at the hospital, so she began helping them with through fortunetelling. Ms. Holcomb and Ms. Smith said they don't advertise and that they rarely, if ever, make $100 in a week. "I might get two appointments in one day, and then sometimes weeks go by and I don't have one," Ms. Holcomb said. Ms. Johnson advertises and has a sign of a large hand, marked with various palm-reading symbols, at her place of business on Central Avenue. She and Ms. Marks, her mother, are Gypsies, according to Q. Byrum Hurst Jr., their attorney. Hurst said the existence of criminal laws affecting fortunetellers supported his case that the tax law is unfairly structured to put fortunetellers out of business. "If their behavior is not within the confines of what is acceptable, then there are criminal laws to deal with them, rather than trying to tax them out of existence," Hurst said. Dana Reece-Almand, one of Ms. Vasquez' attorneys, pointed to the vast difference between the tax on fortunetelling and other privilege taxes as evidence that the law is designed to keep fortunetellers from practicing. For instance, travel agents pay $200 a year and auctioneers pay $20 a year. Ms. Vasquez, who makes her living reading fortunes, said she rarely reads in Garland County because her daughter has received negative comments about Ms. Vasquez' occupation. Ms. Vasquez said she and her family are upset by comments and letters in the local newspaper calling fortunetellers agents of the devil. "There is nothing satanic in what I do," Vasquez said. "I don't consider myself mystical. We are all psychic. We have gut feelings, women's intuition, mothers' intuition. Mine is just a little more pronounced." Ms. Smith and Ms. Holcomb said they were told that several years ago that they wouldn't have to pay the tax if they accepted donations rather than charge for their readings. Copyright 1987 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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