ALBANY, N.Y.  – Should prostitution be taken out of the shadows and legalized in New York?

That's what a cadre of New York City Democratic senators contend, arguing the state should be the nation's first to fully decriminalize paying for sex.

While the controversial measure appears to stand little chance of passage any time soon, it is generating a torrent of publicity after two sponsors -- Sens. Julia Salazar, D- Brooklyn, and Jessica Ramos, D-Queens – came out in support of the legislation in an essay published by the New York Daily News this week.

In response, a third supporter, Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, tweeted: "Decriminalization is critical to protecting the rights and safety of people who trade sex, no matter where they are on the spectrum of choice, circumstance, and coercion."

A vocal group of activists, calling themselves Decrim NY, is also rallying support for the legislation that coincidentally surfaced just days after the nationally-publicized charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for soliciting prostitution at a Florida massage parlor.

In the aftermath, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey commented on the challenge that law enforcement agencies face in dealing with prostitution that she said has grown so widespread an estimated 20,000 sex ads are posted online each month in the state.

"We see operations set up in people’s homes, in communities rural, urban and suburban, all over the state, where through the internet now it’s very simple to set up essentially a brothel within a neighborhood,” Healey said during a broadcast on Boston radio station WGBH.

She said arresting those who patronize prostitutes is one of the best strategies for countering the activity.

In Albany, State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said he vigorously opposes legal prostitution, and challenged the claim by supporters that it would help end human trafficking and the exploitation of those lured into the sex trade.

"I don't see any public good," Ortt said. "Once you legalize an activity, that activity is going to increase. With prostitution, you are trading sex for money. It's not something we should be condoning."

In rural Plattsburgh, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said legalizing prostitution would prompt more desperate people to sell their bodies for money. "We have a lot of people here who live from paycheck to paycheck," he said.

The sheriff added:  "There comes a time when you ask: When are we going to stop changing these laws just for the sake of changing laws, even when it's at the risk of compromising the moral values of society? We need to refocus on that because we're seeing big impacts on the upcoming generation."

Nevada is the only state that allows prostitution, albeit on a limited scale. It is legal in eight rural counties at licensed brothels, but not elsewhere.

Joe Mahoney is the CNHI state reporter in New York. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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