- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A state lawmaker has proposed that Nevada give cities and counties the explicit authority to shut down hotels where prostitution arrests are repeatedly made.

Assemblyman John Hambrick said Thursday that his bill would help curb human trafficking by keeping hotel managers from turning a blind eye to illegal prostitution.

The Las Vegas Republican said his proposal aims to curb sexual exploitation at by-the-hour hotels that work with or overlook pimps operating at their establishments.

“I’m trying to get to a situation where communities can be safe and not have to worry about the scourge of human trafficking,” Hambrick said at a legislative hearing.

Prostitution is legal in some rural areas of the state but only at accredited brothels.

Assembly Bill 217 would allow local government officials to revoke business licenses if they believe managers should have known about repeated illegal prostitution activities, but make little effort to stop it.

Municipalities already have broad ability to revoke or suspend licenses for any suitable reason the government determines, as long as businesses are given fair warning and a hearing.

“This gives them a little more horsepower to be able to shut things down or to walk down that path after the second or third (prostitution) offense,” Hambrick said of his proposal.

Melissa Holland, co-founder of Reno-based human rights organization Awaken, said Nevada needs to increase the legal risks associated with sexually exploiting women.

“To specifically identify prostitution as a reason you are not to legally continue your business here is a big deal,” Holland said.

Illegal prostitution takes place in all corners of the state, from the Las Vegas Strip to towns where legal brothels operate, lawmakers and government officials said at the Thursday hearing.

“A lot of people don’t realize that this stuff is happening,” Democratic state Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, of Las Vegas, said.

Hambrick said local authorities should use arrest data to pin-point locations of repeat offenses.

“The same establishments are housing and being safe havens for this sort of activity over and over again,” said Jason Guinasso, a Reno attorney who lost a bid for the Assembly in November. “We’re often left to wonder: Why aren’t these owners or operators making sure, when this sort of activity happens, why aren’t they doing anything to stop it?”

Bryan Wachter of the Retail Association of Nevada, the one opponent at the hearing, said he was concerned it would disenfranchise business owners genuinely unaware of illicit activities taking place.

Democratic state Assemblyman Skip Daly, of Sparks, said the courts have defined and upheld laws concerning what a “reasonable person” would do or should be aware of, and Guinasso argued the bill would not violate due process rights because it would invite but not require action against those owners. Plus, Hambrick said, it’s obvious what’s taking place when one room is rented five times in a night.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,” Hambrick said.

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