On February 26, 2020

State considers legalizing prostitution

by Rep Jim Harrison

While waiting in the State House lobby, an influential state senator happened by and kiddingly called me a “troublemaker.” He was referencing my quote on the House floor the prior afternoon picked up by one of the media outlets in which I said, “Do we really need a study committee to find out if we want to become the Nevada of the East?” (Prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada.)

Earlier this session, the House Judiciary Committee considered two bills related to prostitution, H.568, which provides for some protection for reporting a crime that you are a victim or witness involved in an otherwise illegal sex trade. The second bill, H.569, decriminalizes prostitution. While it was the first bill, the whistleblower protection measure that was up for action on the House floor, a study group was added to look at full or partial decriminalization of sex for hire.

It was the study group section that I asked to be voted on separately. In my view, we don’t need a special study of our sex laws to consider a recommendation on legalizing prostitution. There may be some parts of our law that could use updating in terms of infidelity, but do we need a special summer study committee?

While I lost the vote by a wide margin on the House floor, this troublemaker hopes the Senate will reconsider this part of the bill. Just to be clear, I oppose legalizing prostitution.

Other items of interest:

House leaders postponed the vote on the veto override of the minimum wage legislation until Tuesday, Feb. 25, after it was learned several members of the majority party would be absent last week. The vote is expected to be close once again.

There was a well-attended public hearing on H.610, firearm restrictions involving restraining orders and expansion of the up to three-day wait period for background checks to 30-days. While the House Judiciary Committee was expected to pass out a bill late last week, they decided to postpone action until after the town meeting week recess.

Act 250 reforms were advanced by a second House committee, although removed was a proposal to replace local commissions with a new statewide profession board for uniformity. That change could jeopardize support of the measure from the governor and make passage elusive this year.

A tax and regulate model for marijuana could reach the House floor in the coming week, but only if the Appropriations Committee approves the legislation, S.54.

In spite of questions being raised how to best decrease the state’s pension liability, now estimated to be $4.5 billion (including retiree health benefits), there has been an absence of committee discussion on a new path forward.

Most bills must be out of their committee of original jurisdiction by March 13, the so-called crossover deadline. The date is set in order to give the other body (House or Senate), time to review the legislation and still adjourn as scheduled in early May. With the Legislature off for the week of Town Meeting beginning March 2, that leaves this week and the week beginning March 9 for committees to get their priority bills advanced.

This past week, the House passed H.688, the Global Warming Solutions Act on a 105-37 vote. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Similar to legislation passed in neighboring states (Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York), H.688 puts into statute the greenhouse gas reduction targets that are currently part of Vermont’s energy plan.

The legislation sets up a new 22 member climate council of various stakeholders that is charged with coming up with plans to meet the Vermont reduction targets. It would then be up to the Agency of Natural Resources to develop regulations to institute the recommended proposals, within limits. For example, they could not institute new taxes or fees without legislative approval. That is important in my view as I am not an advocate of a carbon tax for Vermont given our rural nature.

Additionally, the Legislature could amend the statutes to adjust the reduction targets and overturn any rules that ANR may develop. The bill also allows for limited lawsuits if the state is not meeting its reduction goals. Many believe the threat of potential litigation is the teeth behind achieving the targets.

I wrestled with the proper course of action on the bill. I heard from district residents on both sides of the issue. We cannot solve the climate change issues by ourselves, but we do have a part to play. There is much to consider as we go forward: what role will electric cars or trucks play; how they will contribute to transportation infrastructure; what’s the economics and life of solar panels, wind turbines; and much more. No easy answers for sure.

The administration has proposed several changes to the legislation, including the delay of the lawsuit provision and having plans come back to the legislature for approval. It is my hope that those changes are considered and compromises are made in the Senate. If not, votes could change when the bill returns to the House.

In the next week, I hope to see many of you at upcoming meetings in our district. These include the school meeting at Windsor Central, as well as town meetings (Mendon, Killington and Chittenden and Bridgewater). I will also be speaking at the Killington Pico Rotary on Feb.26.

Jim Harrison is the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. You may reach him at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228.

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