Vermont Bill Seeks To Ditch State's Adult Prostitution Laws

MONTPELIER, Vt.—Vermont State Rep. Selene Colburn has obviously been paying attention to the news—most notably the myriad stories of sex workers whose lives (and incomes) have suffered drastically by federal and state government attempts to "help" them through legislation like SESTA/FOSTA and local "human trafficking" ordinances. That's why she recently introduced a bill that would decriminalize sex-for-pay between consenting adults, while at the same time making penalties worse for child sex traffickers.

Colburn's bill, H.B. 569, would completely repeal the state's prostitution law—13 V.S.A. Chapter 59, Subchapter 2—and replace it with a new law, 13 V.S.A. Chapter 60, which would, according to the bill's statement of purpose, "retain[] felony human trafficking laws that prohibit recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a minor for the purpose of commercial sex; patronizing a minor for commercial sex; recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining any person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of having the person engage in commercial sex; compelling any person through force, fraud, or coercion to engage in commercial sex; and patronizing any person for a commercial sex act who is being compelled through force, fraud, or coercion to engage in a commercial sex."

The bill, which has four co-sponsors and is currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, would, if passed, make Vermont only the second state in the Union to have legalized adult sex work—but its proponents still have their work cut out for them. Assuming the bill survives the judiciary committee, it still has to be passed by both the full House and Senate, and while Democrats and Progressives—Vermont's the only state to have regularly elected Progressives, of which Colburn is one, not to mention a Democratic-Socialist U.S. Senator—still outnumber Republican legislators more than two-to-one, the bill might get tripped up on the desk of Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

Of course, Scott has other things to worry about—like figuring out how to increase his state's population above the current 625,000 level. In fact, he signed a bill in 2018 that offered those willing to move to the state, even if they continued to work for an out-of-state employer, a $10,000 payment.

But Colburn and her co-sponsors are resolute in pushing for the passage of this bill, in part because, as the website reports, "she doesn’t view sex work as public safety threat."

"By driving sex work underground, we’re creating much more dangerous conditions for sex workers," Colburn said. "They should feel like they have the protection of police if they need it."

In fact, Colburn is pairing this bill with her other related bill, H.B. 568, which would give immunity to those involved in sex work (or even human trafficking) who witnessed a crime while going about their duties. The bill would also create a Sex Work Study Committee whose aim would be to further modernize the state’s sex work laws.

If enacted into law, H.B. 569 would go into effect on July 1, 2020, though the details of how the sex-work professions would be regulated would still need to be worked out. One thing's for sure, though: Vermont would undoubtedly see a substantial tourism increase.

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