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January 27, 2015

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Legislature will pass on legalizing prostitution in Las Vegas

The debate over legalizing prostitution in Las Vegas will have to continue on Internet message boards and around office water coolers. The 2009 Legislature won’t be taking it up.

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George Flint, president of the Nevada Brothel Owners Association, was informed this week by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley that a proposal to allow legal brothels in the state’s most populous counties will not be considered this session.

Legislative staff had been drafting a bill to allow the mayor of Las Vegas to issue up to three brothel licenses as a sort of pilot program until a brothel licensing board could be established.

In exchange for the opportunity to expand into the state’s urban counties, the industry volunteered to be taxed by the state.

Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, confirmed such a bill had been in the works.

“The question was broached, in these hard economic times, whether the city of Las Vegas should have legal houses of prostitution,” he said. “Flint supported it, many groups do not.”

Anderson said legislative staff will not finish drafting the bill.

“It’s not a small thing,” Anderson said. “We already have a full plate ... before we take this. It’s a matter of time.”

Rural counties sometimes collect large fees from the businesses, but the state has resisted taxing them because of the stigma attached to prostitution.

Buckley met with Flint in December to talk about the proposal and agreed to discuss it with him again in February.

After their meeting this week in Buckley’s Legislative Building office, a somber Flint emerged to declare that his yearlong behind-the-scenes effort had failed.

“Leadership in the Assembly told me they would not take it under advisement,” he said. “I’m disappointed. I felt they at least would look at the merits of the issue.”

Asked why the bill would not be heard, Buckley said Wednesday: “I do not support legalizing prostitution.”

Buckley runs a disciplined caucus and her strong opposition to a bill guarantees its failure.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Taxation Committee, made national headlines last month after the Sun reported he would be willing to grant a hearing on proposals to legalize and regulate prostitution in Las Vegas and Nevada’s other urban areas. (State law currently allows prostitution only in counties with fewer than 400,000 residents, meaning it’s banned in Clark and Washoe counties.)

The news coverage reignited a debate that has raged off and on for years. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has periodically called for a public discussion of legalizing prostitution in Las Vegas as a way to redevelop downtown.

Despite seeing some momentum in the Senate for the proposal, Flint said Buckley’s opposition means the issue is dead.

“There’s a sadness. It’s the only major industry in the state that doesn’t pay anything” in taxes to the state, he said. “I’ve seen legal and regulated, and illegal and unregulated. The first is better.”

He continued, “Forty-seven years in this business, you win some, you lose some. I’ve come to blame myself.”

David McGrath Schwartz can be reached at (775) 687-4597 or at [email protected].

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