AP Photo/Cathleen Allison
Published Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 | 9:45 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 | 5:34 p.m.
CARSON CITY — Sen. Harry Reid on Tuesday called for “an adult conversation” about prostitution in Nevada, saying it is an impediment to economic development because it discourages businesses from moving here.
“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 in a speech to the Nevada Legislature.
Reid told the assembled lawmakers that he met recently with a group of business leaders who run data centers for technology companies. They visited Storey County in search of a new location for their businesses but “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 has legal prostitution.”
He said he has talked to families who “don’t want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel.”
"We should do everything we can to make sure the world holds Nevada in the same high regard you and I do," Reid continued. "If we want to attract business to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come for us to outlaw prostitution."
The industry had been warned that Reid would call for an end to legalized prostitution, which is allowed only in the state's rural counties.
Dennis Hof, a flamboyant brothel owner, arrived at the Legislature about 90 minutes before Reid was scheduled to speak. Hof was accompanied by eight working girls from his brothel outside Carson City.
"Harry Reid will have to pry the cat house keys from my cold dead hands," he told the media.
Legislative leaders were not pleased at the prospect of the leading Democrat in the U.S. Senate floating legalized prostitution as a key issue for them to confront. Some questioned the timing of his call, coming as the state grapples with a massive budget deficit and record unemployment.
If Reid believes prostitution gives Nevada enough of a black eye that business won’t relocate here, some wondered, why then would he create a circus-like spectacle by mentioning the topic and attracting national attention to it.
While Reid's remarks were the primary focus of the media and others in attendance, he only spent a few paragraphs on the topic in an eight-page speech.
Reaction to Reid's remarks was mixed, with most elected officials saying any decision on whether to ban it is best left to the rural counties.
"It's up to the counties to decide if they want it or not," Gov. Brian Sandoval said. Asked if he had ever visited a brothel, Sandoval said no.
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the state's economic development commission, said: "I have never been approached by any prospective business or had an inquiry as to that industry. That doesn't mean it's not a thought in someone's business plan going forward. I suspect it would present a challenge to certain individuals bringing in a company but it has never been a topic of conservation."
"It's a local government decision. We need to respect the will of the 10 counties that decided the practice should be continued and seven have not," said Krolicki. He was also asked if he had visited a brothel. Krolicki said no.
Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said, "I personally do not support prostitution, however, it has been handled by local governments in the past and it has been a history and tradition."
Asked if it should be continued, Horsford said, "With all the other issues this session -- the budget and education -- it has yet to be determined. I agree with Sen. Reid with his focus on renewal energy and putting Nevadans back to work and those are the priorities of this session."
Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said "let the counties decide" whether they want prostitution. "Some counties have put it on the ballot," he said.
His district includes some of the rural Nevada counties that have brothels. His home county of Churchill has approved brothels, but none have located there so far.
Reid opened his speech Tuesday talking about his time in the Nevada Assembly with future U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan. He also defended the federal stimulus and TARP as successes that prevented further damage to Nevada’s economy.