Governor urges House to pass sex offender registry bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas pressed the Legislature on Wednesday to make it easier for community members to have access to information about convicted sex offenders. The Senate has passed legislation that would create an online registry of sex offenders and the governor says the House should do the same.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) With the House Judiciary Committee divided on the idea of posting the names of convicted sex offenders on the Internet, advocates joined the governor to urge the committee to approve an online offender registry.

Early last year, 18 year old Tara Stratton was found murdered in Barre. Police have arrested a convicted sex offender and charged him with the murder. Nancy Boucher is Stratton’s grandmother.

(Boucher) “It’s apparent that the alleged offender had built confidence in my granddaughter so she had no reason to fear him. If this tool had been available at that time, my daughter could have protected her daughter and Tara could have protected herself. And we feel very strongly that she would have been alive today.”

(Zind) Earlier in the session the Senate overwhelming supported a bill creating an Internet posting of the names and photographs of the most serious sex offenders. The House Judiciary Committee has not been so quick to embrace the idea.

(Peg Flory) “We want to make sure that what we do is not simply a reaction to the public’s desire to feel safe, but, in fact, is something that does make the public safer.”

(Zind) Pittsford Representative Peg Flory chairs the committee. Flory says the panel has struggled with the online registry, but she believes it will pass in some form. She says the committee is currently grappling with who to include in the registry.

Flory says there’s general agreement that people convicted of aggravated sexual assault or those who have their served maximum sentence but refused treatment are likely candidates. But she says there’s also a concern about including too many offenders. She says being listed on the Internet may mark a person who may not pose a risk and make it difficult for them to be reintegrated into society.

(Flory) “Because if you brand the person that is not likely to re-offend, you could increase the chance that they’re going to re-offend, because of the isolation that it could bring. So we’re trying to make sure that we don’t recapture that group of people.”

(Zind) Both the Senate bill and the one under consideration in the House Judiciary Committee would increase the community notification measures taken by police when a convicted sex offender moves into a neighborhood. Governor Douglas says a strong law that also includes an online registry would give parents the information they need to protect their children.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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