(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says the recent murder of UVM student Michelle Gardener-Quinn “enhances concern about the safety of Vermont communities.” Douglas says one way to better protect Vermonters would be the passage of a civil commitment law.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker says Douglas is exploiting a sensitive case for political gain.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) Douglas has been a strong supporter of a civil commitment plan for a number of years.
The proposal would affect people who have been convicted of violent sex crimes and who have refused to participate in treatment programs while in jail. Under the plan, these individuals could be kept in jail beyond their sentence until they complete treatment programs and officials deem that they pose a low risk to re-offend.
Roughly 17 states currently have some kind of civil commitment law on their books.
Douglas made passage of the law a top legislative priority but the bill never made it out of committee and it was opposed by a number of key Republican lawmakers.
Douglas readily acknowledges that the murder of UVM student Michelle Gardiner Quinn isn’t directly related to the civil commitment issue because the person charged in that case isn’t a convicted sex offender.
But Douglas thinks the case highlights the need to pass a civil commitment law:
(Douglas) “We have to realize that although it’s very safe, bad things happen in safe places. So I think it raises awareness of the need to take precautions to protect the communities of our state. And that’s why I believe, although not applicable in this case, a civil confinement law is a good thing to do.”
(Kinzel) Democratic candidate Scudder Parker doesn’t support the civil commitment plan. Parker says he has strong concerns about the cost and the effectiveness of the program. Parker says he believes the money could be better spent on other enforcement initiatives.
He also thinks Douglas has stepped over the line of decency by linking civil commitment to the recent murder.
(Parker) “That to me is – I have to be careful what I’m going to say. That is just that is not in the best Vermont political tradition. I would have respected the struggle and the suffering and the grief that people are experiencing at this point and not try to tap that in to political advantage frankly.”
(Kinzel) Douglas strongly denies that he’s trying to exploit this case to promote the civil commitment law.
He says he’s supported the plan for over 2 years and has worked with crime victim advocacy groups in an effort to win approval of the law.
If he’s re-elected in November, Douglas says passage of a civil commitment law will be one of his top priorities during the 2007 Legislative session.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier