Sex offender bill wins early approval in Senate

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(Host) A bill that was motivated by the rape and murder of a girl in Randolph last summer has won unanimous preliminary approval in the state Senate.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Richard Sears says the proposal was drafted in memory of Brooke Bennett, the 12-year-old Braintree girl who died last year.

Brooke’s uncle, Michael Jacques, has been charged with her death and is awaiting trial.

Sears says the proposal is intended to be comprehensive.

(Sears) “No single piece of legislation is going to stop family violence. But I think that this bill, the comprehensive nature of it, will result in better outcomes for Vermont kids. That’s what’s really important. The Brooke Bennett tragedy taught us a lot and I think that when this bill becomes law, the way Vermont deals with crimes of child sexual abuse will be different.”

(Host) The bill would create a new crime … "aggravated sexual assault on a minor." It would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years.

There are also other initiatives. They include prevention efforts in the schools and stepped-up supervision of sex offenders by the state Corrections Department.

Sears also says the state needs to spend one million dollars to pay for special investigative units dedicated to sex crimes.

(Sears) “And I honestly believe, even in tough times, you have to keep core functions of government and one of the core functions of government is to protect our kids. And that’s what special investigative units will be able to do.”

(Host) Senator Mark MacDonald of Orange County says he knew some of the family members involved in the Brooke Bennett case. He worked with some of them during his teaching career.

MacDonald says the entire community shares responsibility for the safety of its children.

(MacDonald) “I have a history with the individuals here and I share some guilt in this because it’s the community that made the failure here. It’s neighbors up and down the road. It’s those of us in school that saw or didn’t see what we should have seen.”

(Host) The Senate still has to take a final vote on the bill.


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