Las Vegas Sun

January 16, 2018

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Prostitutes testify in favor of tax

Opponents argue that Senate bill amounts to ‘legislative pimping’

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Nevada’s proud history of opposing taxes now has something of a blemish. Legal prostitutes and brothel owners testified Tuesday that they want to help solve the state’s financial crises by paying a new tax.

The witnesses spoke in favor of Senate Bill 369, which would impose a $5 tax on a prostitute’s services and raise as much as $2 million, well short of the state’s estimated $2.2 billion shortfall but at least a start.

The image of Nevadans inviting a new tax was unusual enough to generate a buzz here Tuesday. Add to it the knowledge that the witnesses included semi-celebrity brothel owners and prostitutes, and you understand why the hearing room was packed with interested spectators, as well as lobbyists who presumably had no financial interest in the issue.

State Sen. Bob Coffin, a Las Vegas Democrat who chairs the Taxation Committee and has favored the tax, began with an awkward gaffe. He said his bill does not encourage the spread of the business, and will “not encourage your daughters to go into the business — they are already there.”

George Flint, lobbyist for the bordello industry since 1975, said rural Nevada has eight major brothels and 17 smaller ones. (Prostitution is illegal in Clark and Washoe counties, home of the state’s two largest cities.)

Not everyone favored the new tax.

Bella Cummings, owner of Bella’s Hacienda Ranch in Wells, said this $5 tax could put some of the legal brothels out of business because it would give a price advantage to the illegal prostitutes in Las Vegas and Reno.

“The big money is in illegal prostitution in Las Vegas and Reno, and there are no taxes,” she testified. She suggested raising the state’s business tax so that the pain could spread.

Other witnesses raised concerns about the welfare of sex workers. Melissa Farley, a psychologist and expert in sexual victimization, said it was a myth that there are no crime and drugs in the counties that have legal brothels. She said the sheriff of Nye County recently announced he would need 30 more deputies.

Farley also said the tax would ruin the reputation of the state because the levy would amount to “legislative pimping.”

Brothel owners and prostitutes defended their industry.

Kenneth Green, owner of the Chicken Ranch in Pahrump, said he favored the tax but it should be a flat tax paid by customers.

Industry leaders are divided about the proposed tax, said Dennis Hof, owner of two brothels and a regular on an HBO program about one of them, Bunny Ranch in Lyon County. Hof said he favored a tax as a way to help the state. He said the industry was looking for respectability.

Deanne Salinger, an Air Force veteran known as “Air Force Amy” and a prostitute who appears regularly on the HBO shows, said she was more than willing to pay a little more, or have customers pay a little more, to help the state.

Brooke Taylor, who works with Salinger at the Bunny Ranch, said she’s a college graduate who’s worked at the ranch for three and a half years. She thanked Nevada for the opportunity to work in a “safe and legal” business.

Also testifying was Chloe Daniels, another prostitute, who spoke in support of the bill.

The committee did not take action.

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