Lawmakers consider removing police exemption from prostitution bill

A bill in the state legislature is receiving national attention for its potential to change a current state law regarding police busting prostitutes.

The uproar has to do with police stings involving prostitutes and whether undercover officers are protected from prosecution if they have sex with prostitutes.

A state lawmaker is trying to change the bill to end a police exemption from Hawaii’s prostitution laws. Sen. Clayton Hee (D-Kaneohe, Waialua, Wahiawa) is recommending that law enforcement officers should not be exempt when it comes to prostitution. A current state law says they are, when they’re acting in police duties.

“I’m sure HPD can do a better job than needing the exemption,” said Sen. Hee.

“We can’t have this kind of immunity, because it opens up the doors to abuse of power and sexual violations,” said Kathryn Xian of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.

Even though the Honolulu Police Department submitted written testimony, no one from the department showed up for a public hearing on Friday.

HPD says officers are not allowed to have sex with prostitutes and the department has never asked the legislature to allow officers to engage in sex with prostitutes.

In a statement, HPD said, “Under Hawaii law (HRS Section 712-1200), merely agreeing to pay a fee for sexual conduct constitutes a violation of the statute thus, the exemption for police officers is necessary so they can conduct prostitution investigations.  If there was no exemption, officers would not be able to respond to a verbal offer from a suspected prostitute.  This does not mean that officers are allowed to engage in sexual penetration.”

KHON2 wanted to know if this was also an issue in other cities. “In Oregon, we would not need an exemption,” said Sgt. Pete Simpson of the Portland Police Dept. “Officers can, in course of their official duties, violate certain laws, such as running red lights.”

“You can expect that exemption will be out of the recommendation of the chair,” Sen. Hee said, even though he deferred decision making until next week. “I would note that HPD’s absence is deafening and I think that’s a poor statement and the chief of police ought to be called into account.”

When asked if HPD’s presence would have changed his mind, Sen. Hee said, “It may have. It probably wouldn’t, but it would have given the members of the Judiciary committee the opportunity to question them about the necessity of a law. If it’s so necessary, why weren’t they here?”

Sen. Hee says HPD officials called him to meet next week before decision-making on Friday.

The proposal is just part of a bill aimed at changing the law regulating prostitution and sex crimes. Under the bill, anyone found to be soliciting a minor would now face felony charges.

It also calls for repeat violent and sexual offenders to be eligible for enhanced sentencing, meaning they could face more jail time, and lists sadomasochistic abuse as an element of the offense of prostitution.

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