Legislative hearings often can be dull, but that was hardly the case Tuesday as prostitutes and owners of legal Nevada brothels showed up to tell state lawmakers they support a bill to levy a $5 state tax on sex acts.
But Sen. Bob Coffin's proposed tax, to help the state out of its current fiscal crisis, was criticized during a Senate Taxation Committee hearing by prostitution researcher Melissa Farley as "an act of legislative pimping."
Coffin, who chairs the committee, didn't call for a vote on his SB369. Four of the seven committee members already have said they oppose the plan, which means it's dead unless he can change some minds and get the four votes needed for approval.
The state has not collected a dollar in taxes from prostitution since it was legalized in some rural Nevada counties more than 30 years ago, and Coffin said that should change because the state is desperate for revenue "and we have an industry willing to pay."
"Can we be so proud as to refuse money that is offered, that can be levied on a legal business?" he said, adding that part of the estimated $2 million a year in revenue would help pay for a state ombudsman to counsel sex workers.
Deanne "Air Force Amy" Salinger, one of three sex workers at legal brothels who spoke in favor of SB369, said the ombudsman service should have been in place long ago. "If $5 per person can raise $2 million a year, I'm all for it," she added.
Brooke Taylor and Chloe Daniels, also working legally as prostitutes, joined in support of the bill. Daniels also tried to counter Farley's criticism of the plan and of prostitution in general, saying, "We're not forced to do anything we don't want to do."
Besides describing Coffin's bill as "legislative pimping," Farley said the tax proceeds would be "blood money" derived from "a form of sexual abuse" and "paid rape."
Farley was backed by Sister Diane Maguire of the Sisters of the Holy Family in Las Vegas, who submitted a statement saying the proposal "normalizes prostitution and makes it seem like it's a legitimate occupation."
The critics had an ally of sorts in Bella Cummings, owner of a legal brothel in Wells who said SB369 could cause problems for brothels that are seeing fewer customers due to the economic downturn.
Brothel operators and owners Dennis Hof and Ken Green, backed by their legislative lobbyist, George Flint, also asked legislators to support the plan.