AUGUSTA — A bill that would allow Maine courts to vacate prostitution convictions from the records of those who are victims of human trafficking is likely to get another chance.

Lawmakers on Maine’s Legislative Council rejected the bill in a 6-4 vote earlier this week as they attempted to sort more than 400 bills that would be considered in the legislative session beginning in January.

The six Democrats on the panel rejected the bill. That party-line vote prompted outrage from Republicans in the Legislature, but a spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Friday that doesn’t mean the bill is dead.

Lawmakers whose bills are rejected by the council can appeal those decisions and will be given an opportunity to explain why each bill is either an emergency or time sensitive, Eves’ spokeswoman Jodi Quintero said Friday.

The prostitution immunity measure, sponsored by Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, was voted down because it didn’t meet strict criteria for bills that would be considered in the relatively short 2014 lawmaking session, Quintero said.

“Speaker Eves is encouraging Rep. Volk to appeal the decision, and if she can show why this is an emergency, then he has said he will vote for the bill,” Quintero said. “He has said the bill has merit.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Volk said she would appeal the decision.

According to Volk, a change is needed because victims of human trafficking often face difficulty moving on from the situation in which they were exploited. Many are haunted by records that could prevent them from getting jobs and moving on with their lives, Volk told reporters earlier this week.

“These people need to be able to put the past behind them and move on with their lives, and not have this dogging them forever with a background check,” she said in a recent interview.

She later said the bill was an emergency because delaying its passage meant victims with prostitution convictions could have to wait an additional year before being able to clear their names and gain access to employment or education.

“There are women out there carrying prostitution convictions, even though they had no control over their circumstances,” Volk said. 

It was unclear whether any victim of human trafficking has been prosecuted on prostitution charges in Maine.

But David Sorensen, a spokesman for Republicans in the House of Representatives, questioned why Democrats wouldn’t be willing to close any possible loophole.

“Why would they want to leave that up to prosecutorial discretion?” Sorensen asked.

Quintero said Democrats remain equally concerned about the ramifications of human trafficking, and that’s why, during the 2013 lawmaking session, they supported a bill offered by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion, D- Portland, that imposes stiffer criminal penalties for those convicted of human-trafficking crimes in Maine.

In a statement issued Thursday, Volk criticized  the priorities of Democrats on the Legislative Council for supporting a bill that would amend the law on wine-tasting events in Maine but rejected her bill.

“I’m surprised and disappointed that Senate President Justin Alfond’s wine-tasting bill was considered more of a priority to Democratic leadership than my efforts on an important issue facing Maine women,” Volk said in a prepared statement. 

On Friday, Sorensen confirmed that the four Republicans on the Legislative Council also supported Alfond’s bill. Alfond is a Portland Democrat.

Also on Friday, Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, blasted Democrats for trying to deny Volk, a conservative woman, a victory on a women’s rights issue.

“They want a monopoly on this idea that there is a war on women going on,” Lockman said. “If they do reverse themselves on this, it will be because they were shamed into doing the right thing.”

The Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.

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