In a show of bi-partisan support, lawmakers gathered in front of the courthouse in Brattleboro to ask a question that many people throughout our region have already asked: how could the Brooke Bennett tragedy have taken place?
"We are calling for a complete investigation to answer the question that you just asked, what went wrong," said Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, R-Vermont. "We want an answer to that very important question. We are also united around the question that Senator Sears and Senator Shumlin have voiced, what can we do to protect our state? What can we do to protect the children of our state?"
12-year-old Brooke Bennett's body was found buried in a shallow grave down the road from her uncle's house in Randolph. Michael Jacques is being held on federal kidnapping charges related to her death. Jacques is already a registered sex offender. He was convicted in 1993 of aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping-- but released from probation early after successfully completing sex offender treatment.
"Why is it that with the knowledge that we had of this particular criminal, we released him early from probation? Why did we do that? We have to look at the state policies. That does not take new laws," said Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Senate President Pro Tem.
But lawmakers-- headed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears-- do plan to begin putting together a package of new laws that could be considered later this year if the governor were to call a special session.
The proposed ideas could include; longer mandatory sentences for sex crimes, a requirement that ALL sex offenders be put on the internet registry-- not just the most severe one. Also, requiring fingerprinting background checks of anyone who works with a child, possibly using chemical castration as a form of punishment, and re-examining sex offender treatment programs that are currently on the books.
"The only thing that I mention that is really off the table is civil confinement. The Senate Judiciary Committee has studied that three or four times in the past three years, it doesn't have the support in the committee. I personally think it is the wrong move. We passed a bill last year to deal with that population. We ought to let that bill work." said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Senate Judiciary Chairman.
That law-- which was signed by the governor in June of last year-- allows offenders who FAIL to comply with conditions of release/probation to be put back in jail for up to life. It also creates tighter community controls, including the use of tracking devices for offenders. It's aimed at getting molesters in sex offender treatment sooner. And, it created more special investigation units to investigate these types of crime.
Lt. Gov. Dubie is the one who first called for a special session to stiffen the current laws. The Democrats on the judiciary committee said that they need at LEAST 6 weeks to put together something they feel will receive bi-partisan support. But ultimately, it is up to the governor to call the special session. He has said he will consider it IF lawmakers agree to a package of reforms.
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