Douglas, Symington disagree over how to fight sex crimes

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(Host) Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington and Republican governor Jim Douglas strongly disagree over the most effective way to combat sex crimes in Vermont.

Symington is backing a plan that she says will make it easier for law enforcement officials to prosecute these cases.

But Douglas argues that her proposal is much too limited and he challenged her to support longer sentences for convicted sex offenders.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Essentially, Symington supports a five-point plan backed by all of Vermont’s state’s attorneys last week.

The plan includes taking DNA samples of all people charged with a felony and allowing a defendant’s prior conviction for a sex crime to be admissible as evidence in a new trial.

The prosecutors’ plan also calls for the full funding of special investigative units in every county of the state.  At this time, only several counties are fully staffed and the goal is to complete this process by next summer.

As governor, Symington says she would rearrange the priorities of the Vermont State Police so that these units can be established statewide in a matter of months: 

(Symington) “We’re hearing over and over again from law enforcement and victims that special investigative units are the key. In my opinion we have not acted, Governor Douglas has not acted quickly enough to put those in place and we need to be putting an increased emphasis on this."

(Kinzel) Symington doesn’t support the passage of  Jessica’s law. That’s a plan to impose a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

(Symington) “We have to focus on getting a conviction. Without a conviction, longer sentences are meaningless. And the most important step we can take to keep our communities safe is to make sure that we have special investigative units around the state."

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s supported most of the provisions of Symington’s plan for several years. But he says the people of Vermont want a lot more, including the passage of a Jessica’s law, a civil commitment plan and an expansion of the sex offenders registry.

(Douglas) “The real question is her record on the issue of community safety. She has consistently opposed the common sense ideas that I believe are essential for parents and communities of our state to stay safe."

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s trying to create special investigative units as quickly as he can and he noted that it was lawmakers who set up the original timetable for this program.

(Douglas) “She’s the Speaker of the House of Representatives and her Legislature put July 1, ’09, as the date. She’s trying to rewrite history and tell you what she hasn’t done and pretending that she would do it if she were governor of our state."

(Kinzel) Douglas says he believes that most Vermonters support a special legislative session to consider his ideas. But he says he won’t call for such a session unless Democratic leaders support his plan in advance. Otherwise he says the session would be a waste of time and money.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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