HONOLULU - Police in Hawaii would no longer be legally permitted to have sex with prostitutes under a bill passed Friday by a state legislative panel that would end the unusual exemption in state law.
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a larger bill that cracks down on prostitution after amending it to nix the exemption involving police conduct.
"The need may arise to be able to offer to engage in or agree to pay for certain sexual conduct as part of their undercover work in investigating prostitution," said committee Chairman Clayton Hee, a Democrat representing Heeia and Laie. "That is different from engagement of sexual penetration. So there shall be no exemption as it applies to sexual penetration."
The bill's next stop will be a vote on the Senate floor.
Honolulu police previously asked lawmakers to retain the exemption as a way to keep secret the methods of undercover officers. They assured the committee that their officers do not abuse the protection and that strict internal rules prevent misconduct.
The bill, HB 1926, passed the House with the exemption intact. However, state senators last week announced their intention to remove it after The Associated Press reported on the police lobbying.
Honolulu police say internal policies hold officers to high standards of conduct, and lawmakers have said there's no obvious evidence of wrongdoing on the part of police.
But defense attorneys for prostitutes have said their clients allege that police had sex with them before making arrests.
Myles Breiner, a former Honolulu prosecutor turned defense attorney, testified before the Senate committee last week that police have sex with prostitutes a "surprising" number of times.
Police officials attended the committee hearing Friday but were not called to testify.
Afterward, Assistant Chief Susan Dowsett told reporters that the Honolulu Police Department has never condoned officers having sex with prostitutes.
"We have never authorized that," she said. "They never will (have sex with prostitutes). And anyone who has alleged that has occurred is absolutely encouraged to come forward to the Police Department, to the Honolulu Police Commission, to the state attorney general's office, to the FBI if you need to."
Hee met with Honolulu police on Tuesday and said both parties agreed that the exemption wasn't necessary so long as officers are still allowed to solicit sex.
It appears that Michigan is the only other state that permits police to have sex with prostitutes during investigations, though it's not entirely clear given the large number of state and local jurisdictions in the nation.
The committee also advanced HB 1812, requiring police to keep stricter records and make more public disclosures about officers' suspensions and discharges.