A new version of a sex trafficking bill vetoed last year by Gov. David Ige was discussed before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and it drew the same opposition as last year from Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney.

“The main problem of this bill is that it legalizes prostitution for minors,” said Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro. “It allows minors to commit prostitution and yet not call it prostitution, so in effect it is legalizing prostitution if a minor is involved.”

He said Senate Bill 265 would make it easier for pimps to recruit minors.

Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro responds to a question during an editorial board meeting at Civil Beat's Kaimuki office, Oct. 24, 2014.
Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has the same concerns with this year’s sex trafficking bill as he did with last year’s. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“What will happen is the pimps will approach the minors and say, ‘you can make money and engage in sex and there’s no consequences because the most (that can happen) is a violation and nothing will happen to you,’” said Kaneshiro.

For several sessions, supporters of legislation have been pushing to reclassify promotion of prostitution as sex trafficking and consider those being trafficked as victims instead of criminals. But prosecutors contend they need the leverage of being able to charge prostitutes so they will testify against their pimps.

Last year, Senate Bill 265 was passed unanimously in the Legislature but was ultimately vetoed by Ige, who said it was “confusing” and would hinder law enforcement.

The new bill would classify sex trafficking as a Class A felony and a violent crime, and would also create a Class C felony for paying for sex in “reckless disregard” to the fact that the other person is a sex trafficking victim.

Opponents said the bill does not recognize that there are people who willingly participate in prostitution.

Doug Davidson said that the bill would treat prostitution and sex trafficking the same and it would be easy for a people who are caught to claim they were victims even if they weren’t.

Tracy Ryan, chair of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii, said the bill contains “pages and pages” of technical problems and contradictions that need to be reviewed, and expert opinions on the matter need to be heard.

Jeanne Kapela, Miss Hawaii 2015 and executive director of the nonprofit organization UNITE!, said she supported the measure after hearing of the experiences of a family member.

“I will never forget the day that she told me her story. I will never forget the fear or shame in her eyes,” said Kapela “I will never forget the pain in her voice or the tears she cried remembering the loss of her childhood or the sleepless nights she spent servicing men three times her age.”

Kapela said the passing of the bill would allow others in similar situations to receive justice instead of risking jail time.

The committee deferred the measure until March 30.

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