LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday urged lawmakers from his home state of Nevada to make prostitution illegal, a move that would turn back decades of cultural and legal history.
"The time has come for us to outlaw prostitution," Reid said during remarks at the opening of Nevada's bi-annual legislative session.
Though Reid's comments occupied only a few paragraphs in an eight-page speech, they caused an immediate stir in Nevada, the only U.S. state where prostitution is legal.
Nevada allows legal brothels in counties with populations of less than 400,000, which doesn't include Clark County or Las Vegas. The state has been home to legal brothels since the early 70s, currently numbering two dozen.
"Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment - not as the last place where prostitution is still legal," Reid said, adding that his concern about the issue was prompted by a visit by an technology firm to rural Storey County.
The company was considering locating its business there, Reid said, but one of the businessmen "simply couldn't believe that one of the biggest businesses in the county he was considering for his new home is legal prostitution."
At stake, Reid said, are "desperately-needed jobs" in a state that leads the nation in unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.
"When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world's newest ideas and newest careers - not about its oldest profession," he said.
George Flint, representing the Nevada Brothel Owners Association, was in attendance during the speech, along with three brothel owners and 10 prostitutes.
Flint said he's only heard of one business in 25 years that cited legalized prostitution as a concern when considering locating to Nevada.
Pete Goicoechea, a rancher and Nevada Assembly Minority Leader, said legalized prostitution "pales in the face of the real issues facing the state."
Goicoechea represents portions of eight rural counties that are home to at least eight legal brothels. He has "never heard of companies having concerns" about the issue.
Not only that, he added, legal prostitutes "do provide a service. Anytime you have young working unmarried people, like in mining, it's a benefit."(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)