LA State Rep. Mandie Landry Is Unapologetic in Her Fight for the Rights of Sex Workers

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Working within the conservative Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature, it hasn’t been easy for a progressive first-term female Democrat like State Representative Mandie Landry to pass legislation vital to her constituents’ quality of life. But that hasn’t stopped Landry from preparing an aggressive 2021 legislative agenda that will address several important issues.

At the top of Landry’s list is HB 67, a bill to decriminalize prostitution in Louisiana, more commonly known as “sex work.”  If passed, adults engaged in the sex industry would no longer be arrested for prostitution.  Landry chose to introduce the legislation because she admired the efforts of the non-profit Women with a Vision (WWAV), which just celebrated its 30th anniversary.  

“It’s time for the world to be unapologetic about the survival of sex workers,” WWAV’s website proclaims. WWAV describes sex work as the “consensual transactional labor that adults of all genders may engage in by trading sexual services for money or goods.”  HB 67 will be heard by the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice, chaired by State Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge. Landry is not a member of the committee.

“I’ve gotten a lot of really good feedback from across the state. Many women are openly supportive and encouraging about the legislation,” said Landry who is confident the bill will get a fair hearing. She originally introduced the legislation in 2020, but due to COVID, the bill did not move forward. “My goal is to educate as many people as possible on this issue,” Landry explained. 

Landry believes that decriminalizing sex work could be beneficial in the fight against trafficking.  “Traffic and consent are two very different things,” said Landry.  Women who are being trafficked could be more willing to come forward knowing they would not be “arrested or treated like a criminal.”   

According to Wikipedia, Nevada is the only U.S. state that allows some legal prostitution and confines it to only licensed brothels in rural counties. Prostitution was also legal in Rhode Island between 1980 and 2009 because there was no specific statue to define the act and outlaw it. Louisiana is the only state where convicted prostitutes are required to register as sex offenders.  

The legalization of prostitution was part of the conversation during the 2020 U.S. presidential election. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said he would be open to decriminalizing prostitution.  The Libertarian Party is on record in support of decriminalized sex work as well.  In 2019, a hearing on a bill supporting decriminalization, which was introduced in Washington, D.C., drew more than 100 citizens who spoke out against it. The proposal was shelved.

In 2020 four female legislators in Vermont introduced a measure – which failed – to decriminalize sex work. Also in 2020, a similar bill was introduced in the New York’s state legislature. 

Decriminalizing sex work as an element of jail reform is a hot topic in this year’s race for district attorney in Manhattan. DA candidate Eliza Orlins has already proclaimed that “sex work is work.” In January, 2021 the Kings County District Attorney’s office in Brooklyn, New York, stated they will be erasing the prostitution criminal history of 25,000 people who were convicted of prostitution during the last 50 years.

Just last month New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that repealed a section of state law that was intended to prohibit loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution but instead led to discriminatory enforcement of transgender and cisgender women of color.     

In 2020, Landry supported successful legislation in conjunction with the Stop Solitary Coalition that now prohibits solitary confinement for women who are pregnant or have just given birth. “We want to expand the legislation to people with mental health issues,” Landry said.  

Unfortunately, too often people with mental health problems end up in solitary because they cannot control themselves. “It’s inhumane punishment. Lots of family members of prisoners are very passionate about this issue,” she said.   

Landry also plans to push forward a maternal health tax credit measure for surviving family members of a woman who died in childbirth or as a result of pregnancy.  She believes the legislation should be “reasonably well received.” Though Landry doesn’t have a fiscal note on the legislation, she believes the cost to the state would be reasonable.  Landry also has several other pieces of pending legislation that are still being drafted.

“Only 18% of Louisiana legislators are female. Democrats are really heavily outnumbered. It’s extraordinarily difficult for any Democrat, extraordinarily different for any Democrat from New Orleans to pass significant legislation. There has been a strong anti-New Orleans sentiment for more than 100 years,” said Landry.   She believes that some members of the legislature would like to eliminate funds that New Orleans would traditionally receive this year because of the city’s large federal stimulus allocation. “There’s plenty of chatter on that subject,” Landry said.

“Most legislators like New Orleans.  They love to come visit. They take our tax money. They use our airport. But they don’t want to help us out,” Landry concluded.  On Wednesday, April 7, Landry will address her legislative priorities for this session with fellow legislators and policy experts on behalf of Emerge Louisiana. RSVP:     

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