New rules tightening public comment on display
By Guy Page
The Montpelier City Council tonight will consider a proposal to repeal its anti-prostitution ordinance.
The meeting begins at 6:30 pm at City Hall on Main Street, and also may be viewed online. The ninth item on the agenda is the proposed repeal. The longstanding city ordinance reads:
“PROSTITUTION. No female person shall be a prostitute, or shall ply the vocation of a prostitute, or shall subject her person to prostitution, in the city; and no male person shall associate with such female person for the purpose of prostitution.
“HOUSE OF PROSTITUTION. No person shall keep a house of prostitution, or suffer or permit prostitution in any building or other place, owned or occupied by him, or part thereof; or be an inmate of any house of prostitution or ill-fame, or in any manner contribute to the support or maintenance thereof; nor shall any person having control of any building or other place lease or rent the same, or part thereof, to any prostitute or other person to be kept or used, or knowingly suffer or permit the same or part thereof to be kept or used, as a house of ill-fame or for the purpose of prostitution.”
Tonight’s meeting follows a two-hour discussion at its June 22 meeting in which the city council set the stage for repeal by approving recommendations by the city’s Police Review Commission, including:
- Montpelier City Council should support state legislation supporting consensual prostitution laws while retaining felony human trafficking laws. (No statewide prostitution laws were passed this year, although the Legislature did approve, and Gov. Scott signed, a repeal amendment in the Burlington City Charter.)
- Montpelier should repeal its prostitution ordinances, which criminalize housing for sex workers, the act of sex work, and a safe workplace for sex workers.
- MPD should continue to deprioritize the investigation of consensual sex work and instead prioritize human trafficking, coercion, and when force is at issue.
Supporters of the ordinance say prostitution will still be illegal because state law supercedes local law. However, removing the ordinance is likely to send a message to local law enforcement that arrests and prosecution for prostitution are not a priority in Montpelier.
Maggie Kerrin, Vermont Chair of New Englanders Against Sexual Exploitation, warns of a “domino effect” in which municipalities embracing legal prostitution will lead to a similar state law.
“These actions that have been taken by both Burlington, and now Montpelier, have nothing to do with antiquated or offensive language,” Kerrin told Vermont Daily Chronicle this morning. “Many opponents to these efforts to repeal such language have repeatedly stated that the language can be updated, yet still remain in these city ordinances. Instead, Burlington voted to completely repeal all language pertaining to prostitution from both their city ordinance and then their city charter, while at the same time, eliminating the City Council’s ability to regulate it in the future (until or unless the Council makes further changes regarding that ability).
“Montpelier, now, is also moving toward removing all language pertaining to prostitution, rather than just updating it but still keeping it in their city ordinance. With absolute and complete disregard for any testimony from experts from New Englanders Against Sexual Exploitation, World Without Exploitation, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and/or numerous survivors of trafficking/prostitution, the city council voted to move ahead and accept the Police Review Committee’s recommendations to align themselves with the state legislature towards full decriminalization.
“It is very clear that these are meant to be steps taken to further the cause when the state legislature picks this issue up again in the future. Like dominoes, one falls, then the other, then the state.
“Vermonters should be very concerned, and should be involved, before it’s too late. A state where prostitution is decriminalized changes the culture. It increases trafficking and victimization. And it eats away at the moral fiber of our communities.”
Supporters of legalized prostitution, however, say it’s about personal freedom to perform the work on one’s own choice. An online critic in comments following the June 23 Rutland Herald news story opposes legalization because it will make matters worse for women trapped in prostitution.
“Our Amnesty International group #49 grappled with issues around decriminalizing prostitution. Some of us resigned or were banned from our positions at Amnesty for speaking out against decriminalizing prostitution, not because we thought woman and men should not participate in sex work but rather because, after years of studying trafficking globally, woman and children are pawns in this very lucrative underground abuse,” said ‘Nora’. Very few people who are sex workers entered voluntarily, the enormous mental and health challenges of trafficked children and abductees, along with the groomed trafficked, would never be sex workers had they been given a choice and guidance.
“It is dangerous to make it legal. The ramifications to health and mental health of trafficked people leave them little recourse than stay and work the streets or classified ads to feed themselves. If you decriminalize sex workers, what about their pimps, abductors etc?”
The “yes” votes on June 22 may signal how city councilors running for the Legislature are likely to vote on any future statewide prostitution legalization bill. Councilor Conor Casey, a Vermont House candidate, voted in favor. Only City Councilor Cary Brown dissented. Mayor Anne Watson, who chairs all city council meetings, is a candidate for the Vermont Senate.
The meeting is open to the general public, including non-Montpelier residents. Comments are welcome at Montpelier City Council meetings but failure to follow guidelines can have harsh consequences – as one Montpelier gadfly discovered at the June 8 meeting.
Stephen Whitaker, a frequent and outspoken critic of City Council policies and actions taken by some city employees, continued speaking after his allotted two minutes. After warnings, Watson ordered him physically removed by police for not following a detailed comments policy passed by the Council in May. He was cited for disorderly conduct and ordered to not contact Watson and others.
Perhaps with the events of June 8 in mind, the agenda for tonight’s meeting opens with guidelines for making comments:
- If you are joining remotely, please change your name to be your first and last name.
- When you speak, please start by stating your name and where you live.
- We recommend that you keep your comments or questions under two minutes.
- If you are speaking about a specific agenda item, please keep your comments
- germane to the topic at hand.
- If you wish to speak, you must be called on by the Mayor. Once you are called on by the Mayor, you may make a statement or ask questions, but if you have multiple questions, please ask them all consecutively, as the council generally does not allow “back and forth” comments or questions.
- If you speak out of turn, discuss non-germane topics, go on too long, etc. you may be interrupted and asked to adjust your comments or behavior.
Categories: Local government