Deadlock continues over special legislative session

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(Host) Legislative leaders and Governor Jim Douglas remain at odds over a special legislative session to address sex offender laws.

The two sides have been deadlocked for weeks, and today the political rhetoric grew more heated.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The back drop of the debate is the kidnapping and murder of Brook Bennett from Braintree. Her uncle, Michael Jacques, is a convicted sex offender who has been charged with her kidnapping.

Douglas wants lawmakers to quickly agree to his proposals to toughen laws on sex offenders before he calls them back to Montpelier.

But legislative leaders emerged from a closed door meeting with the governor and said they could not agree to his conditions.

Windham Democrat Peter Shumlin is the senate president.

(Shumlin) The fact of the matter remains than none of the governor’s recommendation for a legislative session would have save Brooke Bennett’s life. But we want to focus more broadly on the question what could we do to ensure that this never happens again.

(Dillon) The governor wants to have longer mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of child sexual assault. He wants to expand the sex offender registry, and he wants a law that would allow the state to confine someone after they have served their sentence if they haven’t successfully completed sex offender treatment.

Lawmakers say they will consider these ideas. But they’ve also scheduled hearings by the Senate Judicicary Committee to examine why the corrections department recommended that Michael Jacques be released from probation seven years before his sentence was complete.

(Shumlin) Why was this guy on the streets? We had him in custody? We had control of this man. Why’d we let him out? Why are we lettings others out?

(Dillon) Douglas said he was disappointed the lawmakers did not agree to his proposal. He said his proposals – if passed – would protect children in Vermont.

(Douglas) These legislators want to put process ahead of progress. They want to impose some kind of delay and lengthy hearing schedule when we have families and communities that need protection.

(Dillon) A petition drive circulating around Vermont is calling on lawmakers to pass the governor’s proposals. Much of the debate has centered on Jessica’s Law, which would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for those convicted of child sexual assault.

Douglas said public outcry could force lawmakers to respond.

(Douglas) So I think legislators are going to hear that their constituents want us to take action. They understand, better perhaps than their elected representatives, how urgent this is.

(Dillon) The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its comprehensive review in August with the first of six hearings.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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