Lawmakers After Prostitutes? A Quick Review of Pending Legislation

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BY TRACY RYAN –  HB 576 is another anti-trafficking bill. This bill eliminates Section 712-1202 “promoting prostitution in the first degree” and instead creates two new anti-trafficking sections. By doing so it bumps up 712-1203 from promoting prostitution in the second degree to the first degree without changing the penalty; ditto for 712-1204 which is promoting third.

Problems with the bill include mandatory minimums and the lack of an estimate of costs. (Conservatives have asked that all bills include estimated costs.)  The bill also includes the making of false statements in with kidnapping, extortion, and other violent crimes.


SB 959 is the senate version of HB 576. No hearings have been scheduled for either bill, but they both have multiple introducers and I expect hearings.  Two other bills HB577 and SB960 deal with labor trafficking. I have not reviewed theses.

HB 497 also deals with trafficking, but goes into more detail amending most of the prostitution statutes with small changes in wording.  As with HB 576 some of the definitions are problematic.  For example coercion includes “committing a penal offense” and also “accusing some person of any offense or causing a penal charge to be instituted against some person”. As written any valid accusation is now “coercion” in law.  Interestingly it makes it an affirmative defense for prostitution that one only engaged in it due to force, fraud, or coercion.  Apparently any sex workers who are not so coerced can continue to be incarcerated.

There are several sets of companion bills that were entered “by request” from the CCH Prosecutor’s package.

HB 242 and SB 1018 deal with habitual solicitation of prostitution. They aim to make “johns” into felons on a third offense within a ten year period. Like all john laws this is a bit silly.  It is little or no deterrent to johns who are unlikely to ever face a second arrest let alone a third one. If it were effective in reducing johns the effects on sex workers who are pimped or addicted would include an increase in theft, drug dealing, and other crimes to supplement the income lost from selling sex.

HB 241 and SB 1017 simply bump the penalties for promoting in the first, second, and third degree from class B to class A felony, from class C to class B felony, and from misdemeanor to class C felony respectively.  Aside from the lack of rational included with the bill for doing this there is again the question of costs. With the new Governor wishing to bring prisoners back from the mainland and cut down on prison populations a bill like this should not even be discussed unless proponents are also advocating for reduced sentencing elsewhere.

HB 240 and SB 1016 put a high priority for witnesses in promoting prostitution cases for the witness protection program.  Although there is some rationale for this in cases involving first degree promotion there is little for the other related statutes.  The issue of witness protection is dealt with in HB 576 and probably better than here.

There are two bills from the women’s package. HB 128 and SB 226 are companion bills relating to impounding vehicles used in prostitution. The statute applies to offenses within designated “prostitute free zones”. It is unclear what the goal or objective of this is. It certainly is not helpful to women.

Rep Karl Rhodes who represents Downtown has two bills of his own. The first HB 44 makes it a misdemeanor to engage in prostitution within 750 feet of a school or park. Since it is already a misdemeanor to engage in prostitution anywhere in the state this bill is simply redundant.

Rep. Rhodes second bill adds car forfeiture to the existing sanctions against prostitution and applies to all statutes within the section. That is promoting and soliciting both.  Since soliciting remains a petty misdemeanor courts have previously denied jury trials.

However, adding the forfeiture of a prostitute’s automobile may change the courts minds.  The auto may be used either directly in commission of the crime or purchased with the proceeds. So let’s be clear they are trying to confiscate every sex worker’s car.

Tracy Ryan is the former head of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii.