KEY POINTS

  • Bill H.569 would decriminalize prostitution between consenting adults across the state
  • It would uphold strict laws and punishments relating to underage prostitution and human trafficking
  • The bill is pending review in the Vermont House Judiciary Committee before moving on

A new bill introduced by progressive lawmakers in the Vermont Legislature looks to decriminalize adult prostitution in the state while maintaining strict human trafficking laws to protect victims, especially those under the age of 18.

Bill H.569 was introduced in the Vermont House of Representatives by four female representatives, led by Rep. Selene Colburn of Burlington. The bill would legalize prostitution in Vermont, so long as it is between consenting adults over the age of 18.

It would not decriminalize underage prostitution and uphold strict state laws against human sex trafficking.

"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."

The bill’s statement reads:

“This bill proposes to repeal the prostitution laws while retaining 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 would go into effect on July 1, 2020, but it is still pending review in the House Judiciary Committee before it can continue on in the Vermont Legislature.

“The underlying question is do we need to criminalize consensual sex between adults on any terms?” Colburn told reporters.

Should the bill pass, Vermont would become the first state to decriminalize sex work. 

The move could also generate more interest in Vermont, as Nevada is currently the only state where prostitution is legal. But just eight Nevada counties are allowed to have licensed brothels, and prostitution and solicitation are misdemeanor crimes outside those counties. Also, pandering is a felony in Nevada.

Vermont, which is 49th in population at about 625,000, is considered one of the most progressives states though it suffers from a rapidly shrinking tax base. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed a bill in May 2018 that offers $10,000 to people willing to move to the state and work remotely for an out of state employer.

Colburn, who has been in office since 2017, has been an outspoken member of Vermont’s Progressive Party. She has proposed or co-sponsored House bills that would place new restrictions on Vermont’s fossil fuel infrastructure and another that would stop restaurants and food stores from using plastic bags.

She is also a vocal progressive on Twitter, often highlighting fellow progressives, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as activists, such as Greta Thunberg.