RI: Senate approves bill to make indoor prostitution illegal

11:35 PM Thu, Jun 25, 2009 | Permalink
Lynn Arditi Email

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Senate Thursday night approved a bill to make indoor prostitution illegal and hold landlords who “knowingly” allow prostitution on their property criminally liable.

The vote was 35 to 0.

The Senate bill (S-596) introduced by Sen. Paul V. Jabour, D-Providence, is one of two bills pending before the General Assembly that seek to close a nearly 30-year-old “loophole” in the state’s prostitution law.

The other bill (H-5044 A), introduced by Rep. Joanne M. Giannini, D-Providence, was approved 62 to 8 in the House last May.

In order to become law, the Senate and House must both approve one, identical bill.

Jabour said yesterday that he hopes that his colleague in the House, Giannini, is willing to work with him to get a prostitution bill passed this session.

“Representative Giannini has done a tremendous amount of work on this,” Jabour said Thursday. “If she wants something passed, I want Joanne to consider amending her bill.”

The Senate bill’s approval Thursday night followed a series of negotiations throughout the day Wednesday by Jabour, the bill’s sponsor, the Senate president and members of Senate Judiciary Committee, who approved the bill just 90 minutes before the Senate floor vote.

Sen. Rhoda E. Perry, D-Providence, who previously opposed the prostitution bill because she said she feared it was victimizing prostitutes, was among those who voted for it Thursday night.

Both the House and Senate bills seek to give the police the tools they have said are necessary to investigate and prosecute cases that could involve sex-trafficking. The lack of a criminal statute against indoor prostitution, the police say, has fueled the expansion in Rhode Island of brothels masquerading as “spas.”

But the House and Senate bills differ in several key respects. For example, the Senate bill includes penalties for landlords who “knowingly” allow prostitution on their property.

Under Sen. Jabour’s bill, landlords who are repeat offenders would face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

“You get caught shoplifting three times, you’re an habitual offender” subject to a felony charge, Jabour, a lawyer, said. “Why should it be any different for prostitution?”

The penalties–which are much lighter for first- and second-time offenders–are designed to encourage landlords to take action to remove tenants whom they know or suspect are using the premises for prostitution, said legislative counsel lawyer Richard K. Corley, who helped draft the Senate bill.

For landlords, the punishment for a first offense is a misdemeanor “violation” subject a $100 contribution to the Victims’ Indemnity Fund; a second-offense is punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Jabour had said last week that property owners are the “silent force” against his bill, adding that he wanted to “smoke out the skunks and see who’s against it.”‘

Jabour’s bill also include identical penalties for prostitutes and “johns.”

Other than certain counties in Nevada, Rhode Island is the only place in the country where indoor prostitution is not a crime.

Link to original at Providence Journal

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