Lyon commissioners postpone brothel fee hike proposal
September 6, 2007
Brothel workers in Lyon County won’t have to pay more for their work cards, at least for now.
The Lyon County Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday on an ordinance that would increase the work card fees to $100, add a restriction on issuance of work cards to anyone convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia within the previous five years and withhold work cards for anyone convicted of a serious sex offense.
The commissioners voted to hold a second hearing after they had a chance to look into the fees and other issues further. That hearing will be, tentatively, at the second meeting in October or the first meeting in November.
Sheriff Allen Veil said the proposed ordinance would also allow future changes in fees to be made by a resolution passed by the commission, rather than having to amend the ordinance each time a change was warranted.
Veil sought to have the work card fees, which are paid by both prostitutes and general brothel employees such as janitors and bartenders, increased from $50 per year to $100 per year. The fee would have to be paid again if an employee leaves one brothel to work at another. Also, those who work at two brothels have to pay the fee twice.
Veil said the fee hike is necessary because the state charges more than $50 to complete the background checks and the county was also spending more on labor and materials getting the work done.
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The initial proposed amended ordinance would have required monthly testing for herpes, but Veil said that was a mistake, since herpes tests are often inaccurate. However, he added monthly tests for hepatitis B. If a prostitute had been vaccinated against hepatitis B, the test requirement would be waived.
Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite BunnyRanch and Moonlite BunnyRanch II in Mound House, said it was unfair to require workers who are not prostitutes to have a work card.
Hof, who arrived with about a dozen employees, said it was an unfair burden on room cleaners and other workers to have to pay the fee, and if workers in brothels had to have a work card, all employees in every business as well as government should also have to have the cards.
“There’s no reason for these people to have a work card,” he said, noting that in casinos, only those workers who dealt with cash or gambling directly needed work cards, not waitresses or janitors.
Veil said it was important to the survival of the legitimate brothel industry to have a positive image with the public, many of whom came from places that did not have legalized prostitution. He said the work card fees paid for background checks that kept criminals out of the brothels.
Veil said brothels were a “unique industry” that required the extra regulation.
Hof also objected to the restriction on workers who have been convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia within the last five years and those convicted of sex offenses.
He gave an example that in some states, an exotic dancer who takes a dollar from a customer with her hand can be found guilty of lewdness.
“We’re trying to attract working girls and you’re making it harder and harder and harder,” he said.
But Veil said by the inclusion of the sex offense restriction he meant serious predatory offenses like rape or sexual seduction, formerly known as statutory rape.
Several BunnyRanch workers spoke against the rules.
Mary Champlin, a cleaning worker at the brothel, said she made only $9 an hour and a fee increase would be a hardship for her. She also said it was unfair to require her to pay for a work card in order to do a background check, when workers in other industries didn’t have to have them.
“You have sex offenders working in schools, but you don’t do background checks,” she said. “You have abusers of the elderly working in nursing homes, but you don’t do background checks. We have been singled out.”
Deanne Salinger, a self-described “working girl” said she found the fee hike and regulations too much.
“I’m supposed to lay down and take this treatment because I work in a unique industry,” she said. “We’re treated like second-class citizens.”
Hof said people convicted of misdemeanors can work as sheriff’s deputies in Lyon County and he felt it was unfair for more restrictions to be placed on prostitutes than law enforcement officers.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.