The Senate is expected to vote this week on two bills designed to strengthen the laws against prostitution and sex-trafficking.
A measure (S-596) introduced by Sen. Paul V. Jabour, D-Providence, to make indoor prostitution a crime “will come up for a vote this session,” Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed pledged Tuesday.
Rhode Island is the only place in the country, other than certain counties in Nevada, where indoor prostitution is not a crime.
“I believe that law enforcement sees this as a loophole and we’re addressing this,” Paiva Weed said.
Jabour’s bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A separate bill, introduced in the House by Rep. Joanne M. Giannini, D-Providence, passed the Senate in May by a vote of 62 to 8.
Meanwhile, the Senate also is expected to take up legislation as early as Wednesday to strengthen the laws against sex-trafficking in minors.
That measure (S-605 Sub A), introduced by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, had been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor Tuesday but was postponed to give senators a chance to review some last-minute changes.
Efforts to amend the 2007 human trafficking law initially drew broad support among a diverse coalition that included law enforcement, advocates for victims and church groups. But in recent weeks, some of the legislation’s supporters — among them the Rhode Island State Police — have raised concerns about the language in the Senate version of the bill.
The state police superintendent, Col. Brendan P. Doherty, said the original Senate bill included requirements for training that would be time-consuming and expensive. But the new version introduced Tuesday stipulates only that it is up to law enforcement to ensure necessary training.
One of the House bill’s vocal supporters, University of Rhode Island Prof. Donna Hughes, e-mailed a letter to senators last Monday urging them to reject the Senate bill.
“Of course, I am opposed to sex trafficking,” she said in the e-mail, “but this bill comes loaded with loopholes and complex provisions that will create more problems than it solves.”
Hughes wrote that the bill “creates a loophole for buyers of sex, if they are under 21.”
The amended Senate bill states: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as preventing the prosecution of ‘victims’ or ‘customers’ that are personally involved in the management, organization or proprietary ownership of an enterprise …”
Kimberly Harris, cochairwoman of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking, said Tuesday she was “optimistic that both the House and Senate will agree on the most comprehensive victim-centered bill.”
Harris said the coalition had hoped the bill would also cover trafficking for forced labor, but that provision was removed from the Senate version.
A separate sex-trafficking bill (H-5661) introduced by Representative Giannini, which included a provision to cover forced labor, also is pending before the House but no vote has been scheduled.