In a speech to the Nevada legislature, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s call to ban prostitution in his home state seems to have fallen completely flat. “The time has come for us to outlaw prostitution,” he explained, to an audience that included a legal brothel owner, legal prostitutes and the legal industry’s state lobbyist.
Nevada is the only state in the United States where prostitution is legal, and the industry operates through heavily regulated brothels. But many legislators seemed confused by Reid’s emphasis on prostitution, when Nevada is facing a fiscal crisis and in the midst of redrawing its congressional and legislative districts.
“We are consumed by the the budget and its implications for our state,” explained one state senator. In the rural counties where prostitution is allowed, it’s mostly the subject of local control. This may have added to legislators’ confusion.
So why did Harry Reid bring up the issue at all? Interestingly, Reid tried to frame it as an economic problem, but also as a moral issue. After meeting with a group of businesspeople who were interested in opening a facility in rural Nevada, Reid said, “One of the businessmen in that meeting told me he simply couldn’t believe that one of the biggest businesses in the county he was considering for his new home is legal prostitution.
I’ve talked to families who feel the same way,” he continued, “parents who don’t want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel, or to live in a state with the wrong kind of red lights.”
This moral dimension does not seem to have turned into any kind of impetus toward policy change. The last time a bill was introduced to ban prostitution statewide was in 1985, and it didn’t get very far.
“When I initially heard he was going to mention it I was very surprised, just because it hasn’t been an issue for many [legislative] sessions and there haven’t been any problems,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness. “It’s always been a local option, and I think that’s where we ought to leave it.”
Some had more strongly worded critiques. In a column for the Las Vegas Sun, Jon Ralston indicted Reid for castigating prostitution rather than the state’s education system: “You think major companies would not move to Nevada because of a couple dozen brothels in rural parts of the state as opposed to executives being repelled by the wasteland that is Nevada’s education system?”
For the most part, it seems like, as sincere as Reid’s concerns might have been, they were spectacularly misplaced. His efforts to collect moral outrage seem particularly unsuccessful. After all, it does seem like the Nevada state legislature has bigger fish to fry.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.