ACLU says sex offender bill unconstitutional

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to give its approval to legislation that places new restrictions on high risk sex offenders when they’re released from prison.

The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill is blatantly unconstitutional.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation specifically addresses a group of roughly 50 sex offenders, currently in prison, who have refused to participate in treatment programs. It only affects this group of people because individuals convicted as a sex offender since last July already face new restrictions under a law that was passed last year.

Governor Jim Douglas urged lawmakers to allow the state to keep untreated sex offenders in prison beyond their original sentence if the person is judged to pose a risk to society but this approach has received lukewarm support at the Statehouse.

The five members of the Senate Judiciary committee think they have a better plan.

Under their legislation, an untreated sex offender currently in prison would be identified as a “non-compliant” high risk offender. This means that when they’re released, they’ll face additional reporting requirements for the state’s sex offender registry.

Judiciary committee chairman Dick Sears thinks this approach will be successful.

(Sears) “I think by looking forward here we’re saying yes you’ve completed your sentence but these are the requirements you need to meet. And they’re pretty tough requirements.”

(Kinzel) Sears says there are some very tough penalties for individuals who fail to comply with the new reporting requirements.

(Sears) “If they can’t meet those requirements it can give them life in prison. And the only way they can get out of prison is on active GPS supervision as well as intensive supervision from the department. So it really puts a short leash on these folks and I think it effectively deals with them.”

(Kinzel) Allen Gilbert is the executive director the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He says it’s unconstitutional for lawmakers to apply new penalties retroactively to people already in prison.

(Gilbert) “In terms of constitutional issues I think this is probably the most offensive bill on sex offenders we’ve seen in the Statehouse. The state can take away our liberties through a due process involving court proceedings, a trial and so forth but it can’t when we’ve done nothing new say that our liberty has once again been taken away.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary committee is hoping to give its unanimous approval to the bill by the end of the week.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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