Protecting Vermont's children

I had to write, as I was sexually abused as a child, and know the horror, fear, pain and loss that comes at the hands of an abuser. I did not die, but many times I thought I was going to you never get over it Please do what you can to bring Jessicas Law here, and know that those of us who have suffered know better than anyone the importance of keeping our children safe from predators. That is a quote from one of the hundreds of letters and emails I have received during the past month, from Vermonters calling for tougher penalties for child sexual predators. And at a time of year when relaxation is the norm, this year hundreds of Vermonters all over our state have been gathering signatures thousands of them on a petition calling for Jessicas Law, and increased penalties for sex crimes against children. I launched that petition a month ago. In addition to a system-wide investigation of how Vermont deals with child sexual abusers, I called for these basic reforms: Enactment of a Vermont Jessicas Law, imposing a presumptive minimum sentence of 25 years for child sexual abuse, with provision for a lesser sentence, if evidence is weak or the victim cannot testify. New Hampshire enacted a law like this in 2006. Their Attorney General tells me its working well. Mandatory life-imprisonment for a second-time violent sexual offense against a child Civil confinement, to extend prison stays for sexual abusers at high risk of re-offending the worst of the worst An enhanced online sex offender registry, with more reporting and monitoring Lifetime GPS monitoring for child sex abusers Tough penalties for those who harbor a sex offender who violates registration requirements Expansion and funding of Special Investigative Units to improve conviction rates and sentencing for child sexual abuse crimes Adoption of laws that would allow evidence of prior sexual misconduct to be admissible in sex crimes cases, as it is in 12 other states and in federal court. Collection by law enforcement authorities of DNA samples from anyone arrested in our state that could assist in cracking unsolved sex crimes. I asked that as a state, we vow to unite around one common question: HOW DO WE MAKE VERMONT SAFER FOR OUR CHILDERN? I am pleased to say that process is underway. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington, has conducted the first 2 of 6 days of committee testimony. They will also hold public hearings in 4 locations around the state. Our Departments of Public Safety, Corrections, and Children & Families have conducted comprehensive reviews of how they respond to child sexual abuse, and have proposed meaningful reform in prevention, investigation and prosecution, sentencing and offender supervision. Meanwhile, we still grieve for young Brooke Bennett and her family, and for all of the other victims of child predators in our state. Vermonters have used the enormous energy of that grief to circulate and sign our petition, and to call for reform. Its working. I know that our states leaders have seen and heard the outpouring of compassion from everyday Vermonters for the innocent victims of child sexual abuse. I know they recognize Vermonters determination to see justice and compassion prevail in our state. As I have said before, it is the highest responsibility of government to protect those most vulnerable from those most dangerous. One of our states attorneys recently said something to me that Ive thought a lot about. He quoted Sir Thomas Mores words: The law informs. What that means is that the law is not just for courtrooms, victims and perpetrators. The law informs it teaches us all by expressing the values we hold dear as a society. Its what makes Jessicas Law so powerful, by saying to predators, If you harm a child, we will find you and convict you and lock you up for a long time. And it says to victims, We will do everything in our power to protect you. Today, I ask that you continue to make your voice heard. I am extending the deadline for signed petitions to January, when the legislature returns. If you believe that we must do more to protect our children, to go to the Lt. Governors website (http://www.ltgov.vermont.gov) and download, print, and circulate our petition. If you do not have access to the internet, call or visit my office in Montpelier and ask for a copy of the petition. I also urge you to learn about dates and locations for the Senate Judiciary Committees public hearings and committee meetings. You will find them at www.leg.state.vt.us Together and as one, we can make Vermont a safer place for our children. Brian Dubie is Vermonts lieutenant governor. E-mail his office at martha.hanson@state.vt.us, or call 802-828-2226, or visit www.ltgov.vermont.gov.

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