Nevada Assembly bill would revoke hotel licenses to help battle sex trafficking

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, testified Thursday giving local governments more power to revoke hotel-motel licenses for allowing prostitution will help in the battle against sex trafficking.

Hambrick said Assembly Bill 217 is aimed at those marginal transient lodging businesses that seem to specialize in providing rooms for prostitutes and pimps.

“You may see signs ‘rooms for rent’ two hours, 20 minutes or whatever,” he told the Assembly Government Affairs Committee. “I’m trying to stop that.”

He said the operators and managers of those hotels and motels know there’s a problem when a room gets rented 18 times a day and should be held to account.

With its proposed amendments, AB217 would give the licensing board of any county or city the ability to pull that business’s license.

Committee Chairman Edgar Flores, D-Las Vegas, said existing law already allows those governments to revoke a business license of those hotels and motels, but Hambrick said putting the prostitution language specifically in the law makes it more likely they will actually do so.

“This is just a small part of my effort to fight human trafficking,” he said.

Several committee members raised questions about the language of the bill saying revocation could happen when the “person in control of that place of transient lodging knew or should have known” it was being repeatedly used for prostitution. Vice Chairman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said that seemed vague and should be spelled out more specifically. She and others also questioned how those businesses would be identified.

That same concern was raised by Bryan Wachter of the Nevada Retail Association who said the definitions of who’s responsible and what is meant by “knew or should have known” should be clarified — a sentiment echoed by Holly Welborn of the ACLU.

Melissa Holland of Awake, a nonprofit that fights human trafficking in Northern Nevada, said some of those businesses even advertise on the internet. She cited one motel in Reno that had an online post encouraging pimps to bring prostitutes to that motel.

“Having this specifically address prostitution is really important,” Holland said.

She said that will help make clear to illegal sex traffickers that coming to Nevada is too risky.

Legal counsel Jason Guinasso told the panel the bill would, “make sure they (motel and hotel operators) are not turning a blind eye to what is open and obvious occurring in their establishments.”

He said it would make motel operators ensure their establishment “isn’t becoming a de facto brothel.”

Hambrick and other witnesses testified, however, the law would apply to all transient lodging businesses from the tiny owner-operated motels to Nevada’s largest resorts in Reno and on the Las Vegas Strip. But witnesses including Callaway testified major resorts already have security teams working to find and eliminate the illicit use of their hotels for purposes of prostitution.

It was pointed out, however, that small, individually-owned motels don’t have the resources to do those sorts of things so the bill could become a burden on them.

The committee took no action on AB217.


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