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Honoring Brooke's memory

As public servants, our most important responsibility is to protect the most vulnerable among us from harm. Children represent our greatest hope for a better tomorrow and it is heart-wrenching for all of us when we are confronted with cases of abuse, especially sexual abuse against children. There has been a great deal of talk, finger-pointing and grandstanding in recent days regarding the tragedy of Brooke Bennetts death. This does nothing to serve Brookes memory. This does nothing to address the failures of that particular case and, more importantly, it does nothing to protect children all across our state who deserve to grow up in a safe and loving community. We must remember that the ultimate responsibility of Brookes tragedy lies with the person or persons who ended her life. As a society, our responsibility is to ensure that we do everything possible to prevent future victims. This isnt about one community or one case; this is about every child and every community in our state. I will not rest until I can look every parent in the eye with the confidence that we have done everything possible to give parents the tools they need to protect their children. Last week, I called for an immediate and aggressive internal investigation surrounding a probation officers 2004 recommendation that a judge grant Michael Jacques an early discharge from probation. Both the position of the probation officer and decision of the judge in that case couldnt have been more wrong. I have demanded an overhaul of the departments policies and practices to ensure that no judge can irresponsibly use the misguided recommendation of a probation officer to release a repeat sex offender from probation. While that investigation is underway, and until a full report is issued by the department, I have ordered that under no circumstances will a probation or parole officer or any other individual, department or agency support the early release of any sex offender before they have served their maximum sentence. Additionally, I have asked corrections to work closely with Sen. Dick Sears and his committee to explore judicial and corrections improvements to protect Vermonters. The department has worked closely with Sen. Sears in the past and Vermonters expect that he will conduct his review with the same objectivity and thoughtfulness that have characterized his prior efforts. In order to effect positive change at every level, we must thoroughly examine judicial decision-making in these types of violent sexual cases to ensure that dangerous sexual predators are never again released before serving their maximum sentence. To that end, I expect the judiciary to conduct a similar review to ensure that missteps are not repeated by judges in future cases. Now we must look to the future to steps we can take today to strengthen Vermonts sex offender laws in every way possible. We must not put off action on those changes we can make immediately. I stand ready to call a special session of the Legislature to pass civil confinement, an expanded sex offender registry and a Vermont-style Jessicas Law to enhance mandatory minimums. These proposals have already been deliberated at length and do not require additional testimony. I have reached out to the offices of the speaker and president pro tem to request a meeting with them, the minority leaders and the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to urge them to support a one day special session for the sole purpose of considering these proposals. I would ask them to return for one day to give an up or down vote on these important reforms. In the coming months, my administration will be an active participant in Sen. Sears hearings and will work with him to advance a comprehensive package of reforms when the Legislature returns in January. I hope the legislature will join with me in the same spirit of bipartisanship to take immediate action in a one day special session to pass civil confinement, an expanded sex offender registry and a Jessicas Law to enhance mandatory minimums. Children trust adults. That bond is the basis for every healthy successful family and community. When that trust is broken and is used to harm a single child, the fabric of our community is torn. It is our responsibility to join together to take action that reassures the parents, families, and communities that we are doing everything possible to protect Vermonts children. Gov. Jim Douglas, Montpelier

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