Las Vegas Sun

December 6, 2019

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Lawmakers target hotels, motels that tolerate prostitution

prostitution generic

Assembly Bill 217 allows local governments to revoke the business licenses of hotels or motels where repeated violations of state prostitution laws occurred.

Bowls of condoms and multiple prostitution stings are the kinds of proof local authorities could use to deny business licenses to motels and hotels believed to be centers for prostitution if a bill discussed by the Assembly Government Affairs Committee on Thursday became law.

Assembly Bill 217, sponsored by Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, allows local governments to revoke the business licenses of hotels or motels where repeated violations of state prostitution laws occurred and the business knew or should have known prostitution was happening but did not take “reasonable remedial measures” to stop it.

The law would not apply to licensed brothels, which are legal only outside Clark and Washoe counties.

Representatives from Metro, the cities of Henderson and Las Vegas, the Nevada District Attorney’s Association and the Washoe County Sheriff's office all testified in support of the bill.

Chuck Callaway, director of Metro’s Office of Intergovernmental Services, said when employees of hotels and motels work in concert with pimps and prostitutes they are usually only charged with misdemeanors. This law, he said, would help address that shortcoming.

Metro has two departments that address prostitution, Callaway said. One — the vice department — addresses the crime of prostitution itself. The other works with the city of Las Vegas and Clark County to investigate violations of business license provisions often related to illegal behavior.

Clark County and the city of Las Vegas have ordinances that prohibit rental of a room more than once in a 24-hour period, Callaway noted. “Nevertheless, there are people that allow (hourly rentals) to happen under the table. We even have establishments that have bowls of condoms on the counter so they know this is taking place.”

The new law, Callaway said, would be a welcome tool to address situations in which employees of a hotel or motel know about and benefit from prostitution at the businesses.

“We had one particular business in an area I worked in that catered to prostitutes and had a buzzer in the office,” Callaway said. “And whenever law enforcement showed up, they buzzed to let the prostitutes or whoever know we were coming."

Key employees or those on site daily sometimes condone the behavior and receive kickbacks, Callaway said. “A lot of times owners live in other states and aren’t aware. But many, many business owners cooperate with us and don’t want to lose their license.”

The only person testifying in opposition to the bill was Bryan Wachter, a lobbyist for the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN).

While he said the association supported the intent of the bill, Wachter said he was concerned about the language that stated the business should take reasonable remedial measures to prevent prostitution.

“Is that putting up a sign?” he asked. “Do we have to personally walk people to their rooms to see what they’re doing? It needs to be defined on the record so there are clear standards for enforcement and also so business owners know what their roles and responsibilities are.”

In response to that concern, Assemblyman Skip Daly, D-Washoe County, pointed out that the term “reasonable measures” has been well defined by national case law.

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