- Associated Press - Monday, June 29, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii Gov. David Ige said he plans to veto a bill that would ban sex trafficking, making the state the only one in the nation without a comprehensive law on the subject.

Ige announced the decision and other potential vetoes at a Monday afternoon news conference.

Hawaii remains the lone state without a comprehensive sex trafficking ban, and lawmakers tried to end that distinction with the bill during this last legislative session.

“I am committed to improving the laws regarding sex trafficking, but this is on the list because of concerns raised by the attorney general and three of the four prosecutors in the counties,” Ige said. “They do believe that while enacting legislation specifically on sex trafficking, the unintentional consequence of this measure would create loopholes and actually would make it more difficult to prosecute sex trafficking crimes as drafted in this measure.”

The bill intended to strengthen penalties for coercing victims into performing sex for money by listing sex trafficking as a Class A felony and stating that those convicted of the crime would face fines up to $50,000.

Under current Hawaii law, promoting prostitution is illegal, but those who are forced into prostitution are often initially treated as criminals.

The proposal divided Hawaii’s law enforcement community because it could change the way officers go after pimps. Prostitutes are often coerced to testify against a pimp after an offer is made to drop charges, a practice with questionable ethics, Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said during hearings on the bill.

“Coercing testimony for in exchange for clemency is pretty abusive, and doesn’t provide the right environment for a victim to stand trial,” said Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, which pushed for the bill. “They (law enforcement) don’t have an incentive to treat them like victims, because they have this option of coercion.”

Asked about Kollar’s argument, Ige said he had not had a chance to talk to Kauai’s prosecutor.

Advocates sought to create a victim-centered statute so people who are forced into prostitution would be treated as victims instead of criminals.

Ige said he understands the concerns that have been raised by bill advocates about exploitation of women, but said the bill creates a special crime that eliminates the opportunity for prosecution of lesser related offenses.

If signed into law, the bill could impair law enforcement’s ability to address prostitution and sex trafficking, including prosecuting some crimes involving sex trafficking of juveniles, State Attorney General Doug Chin said in a statement. Top prosecutors from Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii Island also asked Ige to veto the bill, Chin said.

“The bottom line was that they felt that the current statutes were more comprehensive, and they were concerned that the changes will make it more difficult to prosecute in some areas, and they would create loopholes that would prevent them from prosecuting in others,” Ige said.

Ige said he would ask the state attorney general and several county prosecutors opposed the bill to come up with an alternative proposal.

“To suggest that existing law is adequate at being victim-centered is delusional,” Xian said. “It’s an unfortunate day for human justice in Hawaii.”

The deadline for Ige to let the Legislature know which bills he wouldn’t approve was Monday.

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