By MARK WAITE
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., appeared to pause for a moment during his speech to the Nevada Legislature Tuesday after he said the state should outlaw prostitution, as if to anticipate some applause.
There was none. There wasn’t any applause either from officials representing Nye County or a prominent brothel owner who commented on the senator’s remarks to the Pahrump Valley Times.
Nearing the end of his almost half-hour speech, Reid said he met recently with a group of businessmen who run data centers for technology companies. They visited Storey County to see about opening a facility there. Reid said Storey County is home to the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, which he called one of the largest of its kind in the country.
“One of the businessmen in that meeting told me he simply couldn’t believe that one of the biggest businesses in the county he was considering for his new home is legal prostitution. I’ve talked to families who feel the same way — parents who don’t want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel, or to live in a state with the wrong kind of red lights,” Reid said.
“Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment, not as the last place where prostitution is still legal, ” he said to some light applause from legislators. “When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world’s newest ideas and newest careers, not about its oldest profession.”
“We should do everything we can to make sure the world holds Nevada in the same high regard you and I do. If we want to attract business to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come to outlaw prostitution,” Reid said.
That remark met with silence, too.
State Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, the Senate Minority Leader, said there hasn’t been any legislation introduced this session to outlaw prostitution in Nevada. During the last session there was an attempt to put a state tax on the brothels, he said.
“I think that’s something that should be left to the local jurisdictions, like it is now,” McGinness said.
Nevada District 36 Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley said Reid should concentrate on the problems in Washington, D.C. including a federal budget that’s out of control.
“At least the women who work in Nevada’s legal brothels are paid for their work. The citizens of Nevada have been sending money to Washington, D.C. ever since Sen. Reid was elected majority leader of the U.S. Senate. Sen. Reid is hypocritical to suggest we outlaw legal brothels, he has been using Nevada as a brothel since he was elected majority leader; the only difference is that we haven’t received any compensation in return,” Goedhart said.
Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis referred requests for comment to County Manager Rick Osborne.
“Last year the brothels brought in $118,125 from the brothel owners and an additional $45,000 from the workers. I think it needs to be stated that these are jobs for these people and it is also business for the brothel owners. In these times of difficult economic conditions, I find it insane to advocate for running businesses that are causing no trouble here in Nye County anyway out of business,” Osborne said.
The county manager noted when there were concerns over having to eliminate the veterans’ service office, the brothels agreed to increase quarterly prostitute licensing fees from $62 to $125. Osborne said $60,000 from the brothel licensing fees already goes to the Pahrump Valley ambulance service.
“I think it’s interesting the senator takes time off from Washington where he’s got problems to deal with, to come out here and talk about moral issues,” Osborne said.
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said, “I’ve been here 12 years, I don’t see the public outcry for banning legal prostitution in not only Nye County but the rest of the state where it’s legal in 10 counties.”
There’s nothing to prevent counties from putting it on the ballot, DeMeo said.
In 2000, Citizens Against Prostitution circulated a petition signed by Darrin Tuck, Deborah Marquez, David Lytle and Susan Lytle, asking for a ballot question to make prostitution illegal in Nye County. It didn’t acquire many signatures.
In 2004, when there was an outcry after brothel owner Joe Richards opened The Kingdom Gentleman’s Club in Pahrump, former county commissioner Henry Neth put an item on the county commission agenda asking the public to be allowed to vote on prostitution. But when it came up for a county commission vote in July 2004, only former county commissioners Candice Trummell and Patricia Cox voiced support for it.
Lincoln County outlawed prostitution in the 1960s after a referendum on the ballot sponsored by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, state archivist Guy Rocha said. In Washoe, Douglas and Clark County, it’s illegal by county ordinance, he said.
Ironically, Clark County closed down its last brothels as a public nuisance in Searchlight in the 1950s, Rocha said.
Dennis Hof, owner of the MoonLite Bunny Ranch near Carson City, said he is now second guessing whether to spend $2 million to build his Love Ranch in Crystal.
“I can’t spend a couple million dollars out there and wonder if I’ll be in business in five or six months. It’s a real problem and I hope the constituents in Nye County will step up and talk to their legislators,” he said.
Hof said he listened to Reid’s speech at the state capitol and was the only one frisked for weapons upon entering the chambers. He worries the new crop of freshman legislators will heed the call.
“There was no short term answer what we’re going to do to help Nye County. That’s the problem. Why did he go after the brothels? Because it’s a smokescreen for his lack of performance. Nobody went after him afterwards and said why aren’t we getting more money from gaming? Why aren’t we getting more money from the mining industry?” Hof said.
“One company in 25 years said they’re not coming because of the brothels. The reasons they don’t want to come to Nevada is gaming; they’re not going to come because of gaming, 24-hour alcohol, a shortage of water and an uneducated work force,” he said.
Hof charged it was an attempt to punish the rural counties who didn’t support Reid in the last election. Hof said in Lyon County, brothels fund the medical center; the doctor in Wells said he wouldn’t be there if not for the brothels.
Hof said the problem is illegal prostitution in Las Vegas where there are a reported 32,000 prostitutes. He said Las Vegas Metro just arrested its 400th prostitute with HIV.