Douglas pushes “civil commitment” bill

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(Host) Governor, Jim Douglas, wants lawmakers to cancel a summer study and act on the bill that would allow jail sentences to be extended for some inmates.

But House Speaker, Gaye Symington, says it’s a complicated issue and the governor and his administration are practicing “the politics of fear.”

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There’s no doubt that the political fight over a controversial crime issue is heating up at the Statehouse. Governor, Douglas is accusing House Democrats of being soft on crime. House Speaker, Gaye Symington says the governor is shamelessly exploiting a complicated issue.

The question is whether or not Vermont should adopt a so-called “civil commitment law.” The legislation would allow the state to keep certain offenders in jail beyond their original sentence if these individuals have refused treatment while in prison and are deemed to still pose a public safety threat.

Seventeen states have such laws for people who have been convicted of violent sex offenses. No state currently uses this approach for any other crimes.

In a bi-partisan vote on Friday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee concluded there were too many questions about this legislation and they decided to study it over the summer. Douglas is strongly criticizing that decision and he’s vowing to work with other House members this week in an effort to bring the issue to the floor for a vote.

(Douglas) “They really are just making excuses in their failure to address the problem of ensuring that the communities of Vermont are safe. The civil commitment law is an idea whose time has come.”

(Kinzel) Speaker Symington thinks the governor is unnecessarily politicizing a very complicated issue that balances civil liberties and public safety:

(Symington) “We need a real plan. We need to really understand – What’s the treatment? What’s the cost? Where’s the facility that you’re going to use? Those answers never came from the administration. So I think throwing around rhetoric like “who’s soft on crime” does a disservice to the work of the committee and a disservice to Vermonters.”

(Kinzel) It’s very likely that the issue will come up this week when the House takes up legislation expanding the state’s DNA data base and sex offenders registry.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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