A key state lawmaker has proposed a $5 tax on acts of prostitution in Nevada, where brothels operate legally in some areas, and a counseling agency for sex workers that would be funded by part of the tax revenue.
"We're desperate to find money for essential government services, so I will go anywhere to do that," Senate Taxation Committee Chairman Bob Coffin, a Las Vegas Democrat, said Tuesday in discussing his plan that by his estimate would raise at least $2 million a year from sex acts in the legal bordellos.
Coffin said the idea of getting taxes from the brothel business has been discussed for years but was rejected because "people weren't willing to get their hands dirty" — even though the legal brothels volunteered to be taxed.
"I don't know why people won't recognize that we have a legal industry," Coffin added. "I'm willing to go in and do the dirty work if no one else will."
George Flint, a spokesman for the brothel industry, said he thought the legal bordellos would support Coffin's plan, which would require approval on a two-thirds' vote in both the state Senate and Assembly, and Gov. Jim Gibbons' approval.
The governor, who has steadfastly opposed higher taxes unless there is public support, wouldn't sign the bill if it reached his desk, spokesman Dan Burns said.
Asked to comment, Gibbons said, "I'm not a supporter of legalizing prostitution in Nevada. So by taxing it, there's a recognition of the legality of it. And that's all I want to say."
The plan faces a lengthy legislative process before it could go to the governor. If approved by the Senate Taxation Committee, which introduced SB369 on Monday, the measure would then go to the Senate Finance Committee before moving to the full Senate. A similar process would occur in the Assembly.
Coffin's plan would apply to both illegal and legal prostitution, although it wasn't immediately clear how the illegal activity would be tracked for tax purposes.
With the 25 legal brothels, which operate in outlying areas, the levy could be paid either by patrons of the prostitutes, the sex workers or their employers.
Prostitution is illegal in Nevada's two most populous counties, encompassing Las Vegas and Reno, and in three other counties. Ten other counties authorize prostitution by local ordinance, while two others have nothing on the books one way or the other.
SB369 would impose the $5 tax on anyone who pays for or collects money for services of a prostitute. The money would help pay for a state ombudsman for sex workers who would work in the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. One of the ombudsman's main tasks would be to help sex workers find other types of employment.
"There's a need for assistance for sex workers here," Coffin said. "So when you take a look at the need and the fact that it can be fulfilled with this tax, that's a good thing — especially if it's a tax that the industry is willing to support."