MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Seizing on the case of slain 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie called on lawmakers Monday to convene in a special session next month to pass new laws cracking down on sex offenders, proposing a 25-year mandatory minimum prison term and other measures.

But his calls got a cool reception, with lawmakers saying the issue is too complicated for such quick action and a victims’ rights group saying long mandatory minimums can discourage suspects from entering into plea bargains and scare victims out of coming forward.

“Long mandatory sentences make us feel really good, but they really do very little to keep people safe from sex offenders,” said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Bennett, of Braintree, was found dead July 2, a week after she disappeared in Randolph. Her uncle, convicted sex offender Michael Jacques, 42, is charged with kidnapping her.

Saying Vermont should do more to keep child sex predators off the streets, Dubie issued a list of proposals that includes, in addition to the 25-year minimum:

• Mandatory life sentences for second-time violent sexual offense

• A civil confinement law that would extend prison stays for some high-risk offenders.

• Castration of habitual sex offenders.

• Broadening the criteria for inclusion on the state’s Sex Offender Registry.

“It is the highest responsibility of government to protect those most vulnerable from those most dangerous,” said Dubie, a Republican who is up for re-election this year.

Gov. Jim Douglas, who said last week he wouldn’t call a special session until there’s agreement among lawmakers about the bills to be voted on, reiterated that position Monday through his spokesman.

Asked whether Douglas favors 25-year minimums, Gibbs said: “His view is we need to have a conversation about how we limit the judiciary discretion that has the unintended consequence of releasing dangerous offenders into our communities. A discussion of enhancing mandatory minimums is one he’s prepared to have.”

According to Tronsgard-Scott, a high percentage of sexually abused children know their attackers or are related to them, which could make them shy away from reporting it if they believe doing so would lead to a long prison term.

Moreover, about half of child sex abusers are children under 18, and long mandatory sentences won’t deter them since the sentences usually aren’t imposed on juvenile offenders, she said.

Plea bargains, which may mean less prison time, are beneficial because they allow courts and prosecutors to impose sanctions and community-based control, so that offenders get treatment in prison and courts can impose controls that make repeat offenses unlikely once they get out, she said.

“What happens to victims is they’re forced to go to trial and in 65 percent of the cases, the perpetrator walks away without any consequence or community sanction,” she said.

State Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears plan Tuesday to announce a series of meetings and public hearings by the committee to investigate how the state can strengthen its laws pertaining to sex crimes.

Sears said Monday it was unrealistic to expect 180 lawmakers to come together and pass measures in a few days.

“Any child sex abuse is an awful crime, and I don’t minimize it at all,” said Sears, D-Bennington. “We should all look for what we can do better, but let’s not put the state in a panic. We are one of the safest states in the nation, and let’s keep that in mind as we have this discussion.”


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