A key state lawmaker said Friday he plans to change a bill to end a police exemption under the state’s prostitution laws.
Currently, police acting in the course of their duties in Hawaii are legally allowed to have sex with prostitutes. Law enforcement experts and women’s advocates have called that provision unnecessary and an invitation to abuse.
This year, state legislators moved to revamp Hawaii’s decades-old law against prostitution. They toughened penalties against pimps and those who use prostitutes. They also proposed scrapping the sex exemption for officers on duty.
But Honolulu police said they need the legal protection to catch lawbreakers in the act. Otherwise, they argued, prostitutes would insist on sex to identify undercover officers. The legislation was amended to restore the protection and the revised proposal passed the House and is now before the Senate.
However on Friday, lawmakers said they again planned to change the bill — this time to end the police exemption.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from citizens, advocates and lawyers who argued against the exemption. No police testified Friday.
Sen. Clayton Hee, the committee’s chairman, called the exemption nonsensical and said he would amend the bill to end it.
After a Thursday Associated Press article about the exemption ran on many media websites nationally, the Honolulu Police Department issued a statement saying they were not looking for legislative permission for officers to have sex with prostitutes. They contend that House Bill 1926’s original provision scrapping an exemption for law enforcement officers was “poorly worded.”
“If we were to codify these rules, we would be publicly revealing specific undercover officer guidelines and Hawaii’s prostitutes, ‘pimps,’ and johns would be able to use the information to avoid prosecution and continue their illegal activity,” HPD’s statement said.
Advocates, however, warn that the exemption is an invitation for misconduct.
Melissa Farley, executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education, said prostitutes commonly complain of being coerced into giving sexual favors to police to keep from getting arrested.
Honolulu police vice officers who investigate prostitution haven’t been accused of sexual wrongdoing in recent memory, according to HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu.