Special legislative session still uncertain

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There’s still no decision on whether to hold a special legislative session to deal with sex offender issues raised in the Brooke Bennett murder case.

Governor Jim Douglas says he hopes to persuade legislative leaders to convene this summer for a one day session that has a very limited agenda.

Senate President Peter Shumlin says he’s open to a special session but he thinks the scope of the Governor’s plan is too narrow.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’ll call a special session if Democratic leaders agree that the session should focus only on three issues: a civil commitment law, a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence for people convicted of sexually assaulting a child and an expansion of the state’s sex offender registry.

Douglas is the only person who can call a special session and he says he won’t do it unless the Democrats agree to this agenda:

(Douglas) "I want to be sure that we don’t have a protracted special session that goes on for some time and doesn’t focus on the issue at hand…I want to make sure we have a narrow focus we have expeditious one day session to address a package of reforms that is meaningful and relevant to this topic."

Douglas argues that the session can be short because these are issues that lawmakers have discussed in recent years:

(Douglas) "They spent hours and days talking about civil confinement they spent a great deal of time talking about sex offender registry they spent a lot of time talking about Jessica’s law or some other kind of mandatory minimum so these are issues that have been talked about for a long time."

Senate President Peter Shumin has asked the Senate Judiciary committee to hold a series of hearings on all aspects of the Brooke Bennett case. The hearings are expected to take place over the next 6 weeks.

Shumlin says he’s not opposed to a special session but he thinks it’s critical to allow the Judiciary committee to do its work before bringing lawmakers back to Montpelier:

(Shumlin) "Good legislation is never made from emotion it’s made from thoughtful productive policy discussions."

Shumlin also says that the governor’s agenda is too limited. He says other ideas need to be considered because none of Douglas’s proposals would have had any impact on the Brooke Bennett case had they been in place:

(Shumlin) "This gentleman would have carried out exactly the same actions because none of those 3 actions would have kept that guy away from his niece so the question obviously is why would we rush back to Montpelier to pass 3 suggestions by the Governor that would have done nothing to protect Brooke Bennett’s life ?"

The governor is expected to meet with legislative leaders to discuss these issues sometime in the next week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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