(Brendan Riley | Associated Press) _ Prostitutes infected with AIDS who continued to solicit customers would face prison terms of up to 20 years under legislation which is supported by brothel owners and state health officials.
The target isn’t so much the state’s legal brothels, but prostitutes who work illegally in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and other resorts where the brothels aren’t allowed.
The bill, awaiting a floor vote in the state Assembly, originally would have made the offense punishable as attempted murder. In its latest form, it is regarded as having a good chance of passage.
Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bob Sader, whose committee unanimously endorsed the amended version, said the target is prostitutes who are ″trying to make a buck in a reckless manner.″
Jim Conkey, head of the AIDS education project at Truckee Meadows Community College, said the bill would be a legal tool for dealing with prostitutes who heedlessly infect others with the deadly virus.
However, Conkey criticized legislators for failing to deal with two of the most critical issues: the question of an AIDS carrier’s privacy rights and the prevention of discrimination.
State Health Administrator Larry Matheis, who endorses the legislation, said it would not change the manner in which Nevada’s 37 legal bordellos operate in outlying areas of the state.
″From a public health perspective, it’s exactly what’s going on now,″ he said, adding that prostitutes are tested for any sexually transmitted diseases before they can work in the houses and are tested every month while employed.
After a year of about 4,000 AIDS tests, ″there have been no women working as prostitutes in a brothel who have tested positive while working,″ said Matheis. ″If they did, by regulation they would be removed from employment.″
He said eight women who tested positive on their initial tests for exposure to the AIDS virus were refused employment.
The new legislation ″targets a group whose behavior presumably puts them at a higher risk,″ Matheis said. ″It requires them to get the screening and then imposes legal sanctions.″
Russell Reade, who quit a career as a biology teacher and sex-education coordinator in a Northern California high school to buy a Nevada bordello five years ago, is one of the strongest advocates of the bill.
Reade is co-owner of the Chicken Ranch near Pahrump and spokesman for the Nevada Brothel Association which represents more than half of the brothels in the state and three-fourths of the 400 or more legal prostitutes.
″We’re setting an example for the whole world,″ said Reade. ″Nevada has had the gumption to stand up and legalize prostitution and say that until you show us a better system, then leave us alone. And the wisdom of that is paying off.
″Every other state has prostitution but they have no control over them. And Nevada has control over it.″
Reade has required condoms at his Nye County brothel since 1985. County officials recently required the same protection in other houses, he said.
Matheis says Nevada’s per capita rate of acquired immune deficiency syndrome cases ranks 32nd among all states. The state has had 84 confirmed cases, involving 82 men, mostly homosexual or bisexual, and two women who were intravenous drug users. Of the 84, 53 have died.
Bordellos have existed around Nevada since its mining camps boomed in the 19th century. They now are tolerated or allowed by local ordinance in 11 of the state’s 17 counties, all of them in outlying rural areas.
State law prohibits prostitution in Clark County, encompassing the Las Vegas Strip. And anti-brothel ordinances exist in the Reno-Carson City area and in Douglas County, which includes the Stateline casino area at Tahoe.