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State Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Dist. 3, and Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Dist. 3 — whose districts include College Hill — spoke to about 40 Brown students about Rhode Island government and politics in Wilson 101 Tuesday night. The event was part of the Brown Democrats' "Better Know Your District" series.

The pair discussed the General Assembly's recent vote to end legalized prostitution in the state and their reaction to Saturday's passage of a national health-care bill in the House.

Ajello told the audience she and Perry may need support in responding to a Providence Journal column criticizing state legislators who did not support the prostitution bill. Both Ajello and Perry voted against the final version of the bill.

The column referred to prostitutes as "virtual slaves" who will be "rescued" by the bill and urged its readers to vote against the bill's opponents in future elections.

"We voted against the bill out of sincere concern for the women involved," said Ajello, who pointed out that the bill carried criminal penalties for prostitutes as well as brothel operators and their patrons.

"If you have any kind of criminal record it is very hard to get jobs," especially given Rhode Island's high unemployment rate, Perry said.

"Already the majority of women in the Adult Correctional Institution are in there for (outdoor) prostitution," Ajello added.

In the weeks before the bill's passage, Perry had met with a group of prostitutes who did not want to see the trade outlawed, she said. There was no indication as of yet that any prostitutes in the state had been victims of trafficking, Perry said.

"Unless it is a trafficked person," prostitution is "a victimless crime," Perry said. "More awful" is the General Assembly's decision to allow mixed martial arts fighting the state, she said.

Perry and Ajello were highly critical of the vote cast by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., in favor of an amendment to the national health-care bill that would restrict coverage for abortions. Both said the vote strengthened their support for Betsey Dennigan's challenge to the incumbent Langevin in next year's Democratic primary.

"We would have done what (Rep. Patrick) Kennedy (D-R.I.) did," Perry said of the Rhode Island Democrat. Kennedy voted against including the amendment in the health-care bill, but voted for the bill that eventually passed the house complete with the abortion amendment.


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