Lawmakers doubt they’ll see a brothel ban next session | NevadaAppeal.com
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Lawmakers doubt they’ll see a brothel ban next session

If lawmakers reached Friday are any indicator, it’s not likely Gov. Jim Gibbons will see legislation to ban brothels in Nevada next session.

Gibbons said Thursday he personally opposes legal brothels and would sign legislation to ban them if it reached his desk.

Asked about that Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, long an opponent of legal brothels, said he won’t be authoring any legislation on the subject.

Over the years, Raggio brought several bills to the Nevada Legislature to restrict or eliminate brothels. The last was a plan to prohibit brothels within a certain distance from Nevada’s urban areas. While Raggio was flexible about the distance, he made it clear the bill was designed to put Joe Conforte’s complex 15 miles east of Reno out of business.

He said Friday those bills didn’t pass and, although he still opposes legal brothels, “I’m not going to lead a fight in the Legislature to ban them.”

“I don’t think they’re helpful to the image of Nevada. They’re also places where other undesirables gather and you’ve got drugs involved. But it’s a local option. It’s not a crusade I’m going to make.”

Raggio battled Conforte and his Mustang Ranch brothel east of Reno for more than 30 years until Conforte fled to Brazil to avoid federal racketeering charges.

At one point, with court orders in hand declaring Mustang a nuisance, he had Conforte’s original brothel burned to the ground.

“The order said abate the nuisance, not burn it,” said Conforte in an interview.

“I abated the nuisance,” was Raggio’s response.

After trying to get him to back off by threatening to link Raggio with the underage sister of a prostitute, Conforte served 22 months in the Nevada prison for extortion in the early 1960s.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, described legal prostitution as “a non issue.”

“We don’t see a public outcry,” she said. “And it’s a local control issue.”

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, whose district includes both Storey and Lyon County brothels, said the issue “is not something that warrants a lot of ink.”

“I definitely agree this is a local issue with local control, and that’s where it should be,” he said. “In three terms, I’ve never had an issue brought forward pro or con on it. It should be decided by the community.”

Grady also said he can’t imagine any rural legislator bringing a bill to ban brothels, which are all located in the rural counties that permit the business.

Other lawmakers didn’t return calls about the issue.

Although illegal in 49 states, Nevada has generally supported regulating brothel prostitution rather than banning it since before statehood in 1864. Local ordinances in most cities zoned the location where brothels were permitted. Most city charters contain language allowing them to “license, regulate, prohibit or prescribe the location” of bars, dance halls and other special attractions including “houses of ill-fame.”

According to a history on the subject by State Archivist Guy Rocha, the state’s involvement is pretty much limited to barring brothels within a certain distance of schools and churches and requiring that working prostitutes be tested weekly for venereal diseases and AIDS. Brothel Association Director George Flint has stated in numerous forums there has never been a case of AIDS attributed to a prostitute working in a licensed brothel.

The U.S. military forced closure of the two biggest red-light districts in Nevada during World War II by threatening to make Reno and Las Vegas off limits to thousands of servicemen training at facilities including Nellis Air Force Base and Stead north of Reno. “The Stockade” just east of downtown along the river in Reno and “Block 16” in Las Vegas were closed. Carson City’s red-light district on Curry Street also closed.

After the war, regulation of the industry was again turned over to counties and cities, but those three red light districts never re-opened. Brothels, according to Rocha, are banned in Clark County by state law – done in 1971 amid talk Conforte was planning a brothel near the Las Vegas Strip. They were banned by ordinance in Washoe and Douglas counties as well as Carson City. A vote of the people shut down the business in Lincoln County.

County ordinance is silent on the subject in Pershing and Eureka but brothels are legal by ordinance in the remaining eight Nevada counties, including Storey and Lyon where they contribute substantially to county coffers.

There are more than 20 legal, licensed brothels in Nevada.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.