On Tuesday February 20th, 2018, a MASWAN member testified at the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee in support of House Bill 287, a bill that would establish a committee to study issues related to changing prostitution laws in New Hampshire. This committee would be comprised of three members of the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and two members of the Senate, appointed by the President of the Senate. The proposed committee would investigate issues such as: the experiences of sex workers and victims of trafficking with law enforcement, the availability of services to sex workers and victims of trafficking, and the impacts of arrest, conviction, and incarceration on individuals arrested for prostitution offenses. The bill was originally written as a bill to oppose decriminalization but was rewritten on the recommendation of lawmakers and other stakeholders.
Opponents to the bill had a strong presence in the room and provided much of the hearing’s testimony to the four person Senate committee. These opponents included concerned citizens, a former victim of trafficking, and representatives from the NH Human Trafficking Task Force, Cornerstone Baptist Church, and NH Catholic Charities. They argued the proposal was inherently biased and conflates “occupation” with “prostitution.” Without being specific or citing examples, they claimed there had already been a study on prostitution in NH. Senators asked a range of questions, including whether organizations such as the NH Human Trafficking Task Force had been included in the suggested list of consultants (which is stated in the law as merely provisional), to which the task force representative answered that they had turned down the offer. Many myths about sex work abounded in their testimony, and although the senators generally asked balanced questions, one refused to believe that any police person in NH would commit any type of assault on a sex worker.
Supporters for the bill included activists, sex workers, and academics, all of whom spoke of the need to study the effects of criminalization in NH and examine other legal models. As one testifier put it, this is an “opportunity” for NH to be a national and world leader in this area. The session closed out with powerful testimony from a young sex workers named Connor, who spoke on the spot about his fear of criminalization and his desire and excitement to be able to contribute to the amelioration of his working conditions.
If the bill is accepted by the committee, it will be passed to the floor of the Senate for a vote. At the outset of the hearing, Rep. Elizabeth Edward’s father, also a State Representative, gave moving testimony about a sex working friend who recently passed away. He testified that he had spoken to Governor Sununu earlier that week, and the Governor, previously opposed to the bill, expressed a willingness to sign it. Unfortunately, by the end of the hearing, the Governor had signed into the hearing in opposition to the bill. This development is likely to forestall further movement of the bill.