Agreement reached on sex offender bill

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(Host) Although they made progress on a number of key bills yesterday, lawmakers were unable to adjourn last night. Legislative leaders are hopeful that they can wrap up their work today.

Yesterday afternoon an agreement was reached on a comprehensive sex offenders bill.

The Senate gave its approval to the measure late yesterday – the House is scheduled to consider it this afternoon.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The House and Senate actually agreed on many key parts of the sex offenders bill.

Both chambers supported tougher sentences for convicted sex offenders, greater use of state investigative units, and an expansion of prevention programs.

They disagreed over the issue of mandatory minimum sentences – an issue that was highlighted following Judge Cashman’s original sentence of a person convicted of repeatedly sexually assaulting a young girl over a 4-year period.

The Senate pushed for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for aggravated sexual assault. The House rejected this approach.

The compromise calls for a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence and a 10-year presumptive sentence. This means a judge must state in writing the reasons why they hand down a sentence between 5 and 10 years.

Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Sears thinks the compromise will be effective:

(Sears) “I think that you’re going to see very few cases where those crimes are less than 10 years, and the judges are going to beheld accountable when they go below that.”

(Kinzel) House Judiciary chairman Bill Lippert said the overall bill was too important to be lost over the disagreement on mandatory minimums:

(Lippert) “We know that the average sentence is about 8 years now. We wanted not to hamstring the judiciary because we have a tradition of individualized justice which we would like to continue. I believe 5-year mandatory minimum is a compromise we can live with.”

(Kinzel) Lippert says a key part of the bill adds what’s known as an indeterminate life sentence for all convicted sex offenders. This means the person will remain under the supervision of the state for the rest of their life.

(Lippert) “Meaning that they could be if they commit an repeat offense or if they violate their conditions of probation or parole the judge can pull them back with the potential that they could be serving a life sentence.”

(Kinzel) Senator Sears thinks the overall bill sends a powerful message.

(Sears) “I think that this bill sends a strong message that we’re not going to tolerate sex offenders in this state but at the same time we recognize there are victims that we need to be attention to the victims and we also need to have a voice for treatment.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also prohibits the release of sex offenders from jail unless the individual has completed a treatment program in prison.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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