By Flora Scott
The Burlington City Council Charter Change Committee has recommended changing allegedly offensive language in the city’s existing anti-prostitution ordinances. The recommendation will be considered by the full City Council Monday, Dec. 13.
The three city councilors that comprise the committee considered proposals last Monday to change existing language in ordinances, in addition to adding language to protect sex workers that will now be heard before the full City Council. If approved by the Council, the proposed charter change will go to a public vote. All municipal charter changes require approval of the Vermont Legislature.
First introduced by Councilor Perri Freeman, a Progressive member of that nights panel, the resolution asks the Committee to reconsider the current language, “to restrain and suppress houses of ill fame and disorderly houses, and to punish common prostitutes and persons consorting therewith.” The term “sex work” has been seen rapidly replacing ” prostitution ” as the go-to terminology in the 21st-century vernacular by those pushing to decriminalize it and who are promoting it as a legitimate profession.
Rep. Selene Colburn, a Progressive, strongly encouraged repeal of what she considers offensive language in the Charter. She said it conflicts with creating a legal landscape for sex workers. She affirmed the Legislature is not working on this issue actively but that legislation has been reintroduced.
Among the Representatives, looking at the language has been contentious, Colburn said. She explained that in the Legislature, more time is available to review and resolve issues, as opposed to the short Charter Change information sessions.
Councilor Mark Barlow, an Independent, stated he is not recommending any specific changes but is supportive of striking the existing language. After hearing a desire from the floor to add language to protect sex workers, he questions what additional language to use. He’s concerned that making such changes at a local level will conflict with or seem to override state laws.
City Attorney Dan Richardson clarified that it would simply come down to specific language.
Councilor Barlow asserted that the issue belongs at the state level because the same language and intent is at the state level as is the local. He stated the state statute is clear: Refer additional language provisions to full Council.