Nevada officials may consider proposals to legalize and tax prostitution in Las Vegas, Reno, and other areas of the state where it is illegal.
State Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, an insurance broker and book dealer who heads the Senate Taxation Committee, and others in the Legislature are mulling the possibility to bolster state coffers during a time of severe revenue shortfalls.
Prostitution is legal in many of Nevada’s rural counties, but state law prohibits it in larger urban areas, such as Las Vegas and Reno, and counties with populations in excess of 400,000.
“The most naive person on the planet would believe there’s no prostitution going on in the urban areas,” Coffin told the Associated Press. “It’s going on now unregulated and unsafe. I think it’s an idea worth entertaining.”
Coffin said he has not decided whether he would support the legalization and control of the sex industry in urban areas, but with gambling revenue down sharply throughout the state, legalizing and taxing brothels in urban areas could help Nevada’s foundering economy.
“I’d be happy to listen to arguments for legalization anytime,” Coffin told the Los Angeles Times. “In the meantime, I know we have to get some money from the world’s oldest profession.”
Coffin has the support of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who would like to use the added tax revenue to redevelop the downtown. Goodman would like to have an open debate on legalizing the sex industry in Las Vegas, saying, “I’ve always said there should be a serious discussion. People assume it’s legal anyhow.”
Officials behind the proposal say an added benefit of legalizing prostitution is that it would help protect sex workers. But government regulation of the sex industry rankles many of the locals, who say they don’t want their communities loaded down with brothels.
"I think it's an appalling way for a state to make money," Melissa Farley, the executive director of the nonprofit Prostitution Research and Education group in San Francisco, told the Times. "Once there's an awareness of what prostitution does to women, it makes no sense to allow it, to tax it, to decriminalize it or mainstream it."
In response to such criticism, Coffin said, "When you're talking about cutting funding for the mentally ill and increasing class sizes for little kids, and someone tells me they don't want to tax prostitution, I'm going to call them a hypocrite to their face."
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