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Police exemption to prostitution law dropped by Senate panel

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 5:50 p.m. HST, Mar 28, 2014

A Hawaii Senate committee advanced a potential state law on Friday that removes an exemption giving police officers the latitude to have sex with prostitutes during their investigations.

House Bill1926 Senate Draft 1 is designed to protect child victims of prostitution, to go after their customers, and to limit the conduct of the Honolulu Police Department, said Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor.

"It's very interesting ... the public's fascination with limiting the conduct of HPD with respect to sexual penetration (of prostitutes). It' s clear that they find this unacceptable," Hee said. 

On Tuesday, HPD reversed its earlier objection to a potential change in state law that would have made it illegal for officers to have sex with prostitutes following a closed-door meeting with Hee. Their earlier request for a continuation of the exemption, which was supported by the city prosecutor's office, generated worldwide attention.

"I think it even made the 'Colbert Report.' It has been a source of entertainment for the entire nation," Hee said. "I believe there's no question that we are now in step with common sense and appropriate behavior by law enforcement." 

While Hee said this latest bill would be subject to conference, he believes that it has a strong chance of advancing.

Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, praised Hee and other legislators who supported the removal of the police exemption in the bill, which also provides safe harbor for child victims of prostitution and toughens penalties for prostitution customers. 

"This was a pattern of improper behavior that had been legal and institutionalized," said Xian, who is a candidate for Congress. "The bill really addresses the issue of abuse of power. There's always been a need to have a more democratic process with checks and balances." 

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