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Prostitution ban passes, but college taxes falter

The Rhode Island Senate Thursday night passed a compromise version of a bill banning indoor prostitution, which now awaits Gov. Donald Carcieri's '65 signature.

The legislature also passed several other bills, including one that would strip the governor's authority to fill vacant United States Senate seats by appointment.

Notably absent was any action on two bills to tax private colleges and universities — the bills, which would have extracted millions from the University and other Ocean State nonprofits, were not on the agenda, meaning that their proponents will need to start at square one when the legislature reconvenes in January.

The House and Senate passed their own versions of the prostitution bill in May and June respectively, but were unable to reach a compromise before the General Assembly adjourned this summer. The House version of the bill carried harsher sentences for prostitutes than did the Senate version, which did not mandate criminal penalties until a third offense.

The compromise version of the bill, which had passed the House Wednesday, makes prostitution — whether indoors or outdoors — a misdemeanor carrying a minimum fine of $250 and up to six months in prison for a first offense. Clients can receive up to a year in prison for a first offense.

Penalties are much stiffer for the operators of brothels, who will receive a minimum sentence of one year for a first offense.

Outside of part of Nevada, the Ocean State is the only jurisdiction in the United States where indoor prostitution is currently legal.

Over the summer, Attorney General Patrick Lynch '87, State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty and Carcieri expressed opposition to what they considered excessive lenience in the Senate version of the bill.

But local human rights organizations asserted that burdening prostitutes with a criminal record would serve only to diminish their prospects for legitimate employment.

An amendment to the bill that was finally passed allows courts to expunge convictions for prostitutes — but not for clients or brothel operators — after a year, at judges' discretion.

State Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Dist. 3, whose district includes College Hill, told The Herald in July that criminal penalties for prostitutes would place "an unfair and heavy burden on the victim." She was one of only two dissenters in last night's vote, according to the Providence Journal.

The Democrat-controlled legislature's move to strip the governor's office — currently occupied by Carcieri, a Republican — of the power to fill Senate vacancies comes on the heels of the Massachusetts legislature's decision to reverse a similar measure. The Massachusetts law, passed by a Democratic legislature during Republican Mitt Romney's governorship, was amended to allow Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, to quickly appoint a successor to Edward Kennedy, who died this summer.

The Rhode Island bill, which passed by a veto-proof majority Thursday, will be sent to Carcieri's desk.

Also on its way to Carcieri is a bill banning reading or sending text messages while driving, passed by the assembly yesterday.

The General Assembly also passed a bill that would allow University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island students to apply Advanced Placement and other credits towards an accelerated three-year bachelor's program. The bill aims to ease the financial burden of higher education for students at Rhode Island's public colleges.

Bills that would allow cities to slap large nonprofits — including Brown — with partial property taxes and levy a $150 tax on out-of-state students at private colleges did not come up during the special session. The bills would need to be re-introduced at the beginning of the next session in January to remain active.


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