OLYMPIA — Transgender and sex-worker activists opposing a bill to increase punishments for people soliciting prostitutes are frustrated they weren’t allow to testify last week in a committee hearing.
Seattle-based Gender Justice League (GJL) and Sex Workers Outreach Project signed up Jan. 22 to speak against SB 5277, which would elevate the crime of soliciting a prostitute to a gross misdemeanor. The incident comes at a time when sex workers have also found themselves left at the fringes in the debate over changes in Seattle’s prostitution laws.
Because the bill was heard last in a two-hour Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing, there was only time for three people to testify. Two testified in favor of the bill and one, a lobbyist for defense attorneys, against it.
That left approximately dozen people brought by GJL and Sex Workers Outreach Project Seattle shut out. You can see the testimony at TVW at the 1:41:30 mark.
“I think one of the frustrations is that there was nobody able to articulate some of our concerns about the bill,” Danielle Askini, executive director for GJL, told The Seattle Times this week.
Askini argues that increasing the stigma around prostitution would force sex workers to into more unsafe situations by pushing prostitution further underground and away from where police might patrol. Those situations could pose a higher risk of violence and sexually transmitted diseases, Askini said.
Askini also voiced frustration that Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill’s prime sponsor, didn’t meet with GJL after the hearing. The organization did, however meet with a staff member in Kohl-Welles’ office.
“I had certainly no intention for anything like this to happen,” said Kohl-Welles, upon hearing of GJL’s frustration. “I don’t ever try to stonewall anybody.”
Kohl-Welles added that before she knew about GJL’s concerns, she asked Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, if another hearing time could be found for more testimony.
Padden, chairman of the Law and Justice Committee, said Friday he is scheduled to meet with the Sex Workers Outreach Project next week. As for the groups not getting to testify in a hearing, Padden said it was simply an issue of time.
“We ran out of time,” Padden said Friday. “We had so much testimony on the DUI bill that day and other stuff.”