Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill this week that would have put Maine in the forefront of a growing movement to decriminalize prostitution.

“Fully decriminalizing prostitution, I fear, will only increase demand and encourage the exploitation of young people by those who profit from the mistreatment of others, undermining the free will of those trapped in difficult and sometimes tragic circumstances,” Mills said in her veto message.

While the governor, a former prosecutor and attorney general, expressed support for trying “to reduce human trafficking and protect survivors of human trafficking,” she said she is “not convinced that the approach of this bill is the best path forward.”

Those pushing the measure, including District Attorney Andrew Robinson in Lewiston, said the proposal would decriminalize prostitution, allow its victims to have past convictions sealed and focus efforts on helping those who, as Robinson put it, are “caught up in the nightmare circumstances of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.”

The basic notion behind the bill is to reduce the legal consequences of getting caught selling sex and to increase the penalty for those caught buying sex from people who are often exploited.

It’s an issue that Mills said she’s long been concerned about.

Mills said in her veto message that she worries sex traffickers will point to the measure “as a way to entice more people” into the sex trafficking trade by telling victims “that what they are doing is not a problem.”

“No state in the nation has fully legalized commercial sex work,” Mills said. “Even in Nevada, known as the only state to have legal commercial sex work, prostitution is still illegal outside regulated designated facilities in a single county.”

By contrast, this bill would make Maine the first state in the nation to eliminate all penalties for engaging in sex for money,” Mills said.

This story will be updated.

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