N.H. House OKs Sex Work Panel

Concord Monitor
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Concord — A bill establishing a legislative committee to study decriminalizing sex work in New Hampshire passed the House, 177-134, despite strong opposition from Gov. Chris Sununu.

Under House Bill 287, the five-member committee would look at the present state of sex work and sex trafficking in New Hampshire and explore the advantages or disadvantages of decriminalization. The committee would look at the experiences of law enforcement officers, policing and arresting costs, and the effect of the trade on the mental and physical health of sex workers, who often face continual danger.

According to Rep. Elizabeth Edwards, D-Manchester, who sponsored the bill, exploring and addressing the topic poses challenges for a practical reason: Those involved in the sex trade are the least likely to speak out and draw attention to themselves, she said.

The proposed committee would examine three models for regulating the sex trade, Edwards said: a “halfway” model that would make it illegal to buy sexual services but not to sell them (known as the Nordic model), a full decriminalization model and a full legalization model.

On the House floor, the bill passed without debate. It now heads to the Senate, but if passed there it still would face a likely impossible hurdle in the Governor’s Office.

“There are those in the Legislature that want to explore legalizing prostitution,” Sununu said last week. “I am 100 percent against it, and would veto the bill if it reaches my desk.”

But Edwards dismissed Sununu’s opposition.

“It sounds like he’s misinformed. ... First of all, it’s just a study committee. Second of all, legalization is not really anyone’s intention that I know of.”