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Vt. lawmakers debate dated abortion, prostitution laws - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers debate dated abortion, prostitution laws

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

Vermont's abortion ban technically remains on the books despite state and national Supreme Court cases from the 1970s invalidating it.

"I think it's pretty clear that the statutes are unconstitutional, but for whatever reason the Legislature hasn't repealed them yet. What the bill in front of you proposes to do is repeal them now," said Erik FitzPatrick, legislative counsel.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will recommend the change to the full body. But they're not quite ready to do the same for proposed changes to the prostitution law.

Written in 1919, the measure refers to "loose women."

"The description I think is somewhat dated, so perhaps that merits updating on its own," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County.

Some proposed changes would simply alter wording, but others would shift the substance and application of the law.

"Updating the 1919 law, and looking at making sure we close a loophole in the human trafficking law," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.

That loophole is the definition of a sex act, which lawmakers plan on expanding. The old wording has aided suspected human traffickers in escaping prosecution with minimal or no punishment because the measure only covers intercourse, not other related activities.

Sears says customers can even find reviews of more than a dozen such operations in plain view online.

"I think we could send a letter to the tax commissioner asking her to check on these establishments," Sears said.

Tax fraud may provide a different avenue for prosecution, but the debate led some to wonder if the committee should focus solely on establishments with captive or underage workers and leave consenting adults alone.

"The underlying policy question of should the state be interfering with that conduct is the ultimate question. Maybe that's a deeper policy discussion we need to have," said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.

Senators postponed taking any action on the prostitution measure Friday. They say they want to make sure they get it right, in case it's another century before the law is reviewed again.

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