The State House in Augusta stands out against a blue sky in this Jan. 20, 2021, file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The Maine Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Monday to recommend a measure that would decriminalize prostitution in Maine.

The panel voted 6 to 3 for an amended bill that would abolish criminal penalties for the first-time offenders, but it would allow criminal penalties for repeat offenders. Assistant District Attorney Nathan Walsh helped draft the bill and its amendments.

Walsh said the proposal uses what is known as the equality approach to dealing with sex selling. He said sex selling would remain illegal, even though it would not be subject to a fine.

The legislation “would decriminalize sex-selling, but would keep sex buying — the common term is Johns — that would still be illegal, and in fact the penalties would be increased,” Walsh said.

Opponents argued Maine has witnessed an increase in sex trafficking and that now is not the time to decriminalize prostitution.

“We had a lot of press about sex trafficking, because we had such a problem and now we are just going to make it so that it’s legal, and even legal for them to sell themselves,” said Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton.

The legislation also sets up a study to determine how to prevent people from selling themselves for sex, or from buying sex. The measure now goes to the full Legislature for consideration.