Monthly Archives: July 2008

All the Newss fit to print

Normally I would not harp on the mistakes of professionals in my field (we all make them), but this mistake is too funny not to point out: earlier this week, The Valley News misspelled its own name on the front page.

The banner at the top of the page read: VALLEY NEWSS.

Editors there had a classy correction though, noting that they "sure feel silly."

-Dan Barlow

Finger-pointing

The Vermont Democrats just put out this video attacking Gov. Jim Douglas for allegedly using the Brooke Bennett tragedy to boost his reelection campaign.

I’m sure the Douglas team disagrees, but we’re at a point now in the debate where both sides are claiming higher ground and suggesting that the other side is playing dirty.

And, yes, that is Vermont Press Bureau Chief Louis Porter who asked the now-famous question, "I hate to keep harping on this, but …" when questioning Douglas about Jessica’s Law and the Bennett case. It was the same press conference from a few weeks back when Douglas first floated the idea of holding a special legislative session.

-Dan Barlow

Perspective

While Vermont may have some issues to deal with in how it detains and treats sex offenders, here’s a Florida man sentenced to 43 years in prison for raping a young boy, but he hasn’t served a single day yet. A year later, he is still out on bond.

-Dan Barlow

Meeting today on special session

Gov. Jim Douglas meets with House and Senate leaders today at 3 p.m. to talk about a special legislative session in response to the Brooke Bennett tragedy.

Will the governor endorse the Sears-Shumlin strategy of a series of Senate Judiciary Committee meetings, with a package of proposed reforms to meet lawmakers come January? Or will lawmakers agree with Douglas to schedule a one-day session to OK a handful of reforms that everyone can agree on?

Or will both sides walk away and claim the other side are stonewalling reforms?

-Dan Barlow

Pollina now running as an independent

Taking a page from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ book, Progressive Anthony Pollina announced Monday in Montpelier that he would now be running as an independent for governor.

From his campaign’s official statement:

Let me clearly state that this decision in no way compromises my priorities, principles or positions on the issues. This campaign will continue our commitment to building a coalition of Vermonters that can deliver good jobs, lower health care costs and ensure a safe energy future, support for public schools and a clean environment. I believe in this commitment because it is being made by a growing number of independent-minded Vermonters ready to work together to build a better Vermont. Vermonters who look around and see that when we work together we can do better…much better.

This is a really fascinating move that actually could open up his campaign to some people who would not consider voting for a progressive, but are familiar with the idea of voting independent (I mean, how long has Bernie Sanders appeared on Vermont’s statewide ballot over the years?).

-Dan Barlow

Shumlin calls up Senate Judiciary

Sen. Dick Sears already had a busy session as his Judiciary Committee tackled a reorganization of corrections, marijuana laws, domestic violence and other crime-related issues this year. Well, now his off-session looks to be busy as well.

Sears was joined by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin in Brattleboro today to announce a series of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Brooke Bennett tragedy. And judging from the letter just released from Shumlin to Sears, they are aiming directly at what may have gone wrong at the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Here’s the letter:

July 15, 2008

Dear Senator Sears,

Vermonters are reacting with shock and outrage to the violent acts
committed against Brooke Bennett.  The horrific circumstances
surrounding her abduction and death amount to one of the most heinous
crimes ever committed in our state.  It is difficult to imagine a more
tragic fate for an innocent young Vermonter or a more devastating
experience for a family and community.  This terrible tragedy also
raises significant questions for our criminal justice system, given that
the sole suspect in Brooke Bennett’s murder, her uncle Michael
Jacques, was released from Department of Corrections supervision early
after being convicted of a prior sexual offense.

It is critical that we do all we can to understand what went wrong in
this case and how, going forward, we can continue to strengthen our laws
pertaining to sex crimes in order to protect our children from people
they ought to be able to trust.  To these ends, I am calling on you as
chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold up to six committee
meetings and at least two public hearings and to prepare a report on
your findings related to the following questions:

1)      What went wrong?:
a.      What went wrong within the Corrections Department that enabled
Jacques’ early release from probation?  Given his 1993 conviction for
kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman, what prompted the
administration to argue that Jacques should be released early?
Furthermore, why was the decision to do so approved in 2004?
b.      Does evidence exist that treatment of sex offenders is effective
at reducing recidivism?  We seem to place a great deal of faith in
treatment.  For example, completion of treatment is often cited as a
reason for release from custody or supervision.  Is this faith
misplaced?  If so, how must we change our laws and policies to reflect
that reality?

2)      Changes to Vermont Law between 2004 and 2007:
a.      How have Vermont’s laws pertaining to sex crimes changed since
Jacques was convicted and sentenced in 1993?  Had current law been in
place at that time, would the circumstances leading to Brooke
Bennett’s death have changed?
b.      Since 2004, the General Assembly has passed a number of new laws
which have significantly strengthened the protections Vermonters have
from sex offenders.  How will these new laws affect Jacques’ trial and
potential conviction and sentence, going forward?

3)      Changes to Vermont law, going forward:
a.      The Governor and Lieutenant Governor have called for the
following specific changes in our laws pertaining to punishment of sex
offenders:  chemical castration, reinstitution of the death penalty, and
a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for individuals convicted of sex
crimes against children under 12 years of age.  If these laws had been
in place at the time of Jacques’ conviction, would the circumstances
leading to Brooke Bennett’s death have changed?
b.      What more needs to be done to continue to strengthen Vermont’s
laws pertaining to sexual violence against children?  What can we do to
further protect our children from sexual violence, prevent sexual
violence, and protect the victims of sexual violence?
c.      In light of the passage of the Adam Welch Act by the United
States Congress, what changes should Vermont undertake during the 2009
session?

In addition to exploring these questions thoroughly over the next three
months, there are immediate actions we can pursue to ensure that our
young people are as safe as possible, starting today.  I invite the
Judiciary Committee to join us in urging the Governor to move forward
with full funding for Special Investigation Units throughout the state
and to provide for full time State Police participation in these units
immediately.

My goal is for the Committee to complete its hearings and prepare its
report by November 15th, 2008. I look forward to discussing the
Committee’s findings and recommendations with you after that date, and
I appreciate your continued vigilance on these matters of utmost concern
to Vermonters.

Sincerely,

Peter Shumlin
Senate President Pro Tem

-Dan Barlow

Symington: What did the Douglas administration do wrong?

I’ve only seen Gaye Symington in action as a political figure for about two years. But this has to be the toughest press release that I’ve ever seen her name on.

SYMINGTON CALLS FOR FULL INVESTIGATION OF JACQUES EARLY RELEASE

The decision by the Douglas administration to release convicted kidnapper and sex offender Michael Jacques from probation seven years early and to leave him without supervision has raised serious questions about whether the Department of Corrections is adequately protecting the public. The Governor has acknowledged the decision was a mistake, but he has not called for a full investigation of the matter. All he has requested is that his commissioner of Corrections “look at the procedure” for making these decisions.  This is an unacceptably weak response in light of the tragic consequences of his department’s failure in this case.   

With the safety of our children at stake, it is clear that an outside body must to conduct a full investigation of every aspect of this case and our parole system to determine how this failure occurred.  Because I do not want my status as a candidate for Governor to be a distraction in this process, I’ve decided not to call the House Judiciary committee back to conduct this investigation.  I have spoken with Senate President Peter Shumlin, and understand that he is planning to head in this direction, and will provide details on his plans tomorrow.   

I urge my colleagues in the Senate to get to the bottom of this failure without delay. Vermont’s citizens and lawmakers must know exactly what went wrong in enforcing our current laws so the necessary steps can be taken to prevent another tragic failure like this from occurring.

Among the questions that must be answered are:

1)      Why did the Department of Corrections argue for setting a convicted sex offender and kidnapper free despite the opposition of prosecutors?

2)      Does the Douglas administration have tough enough standards in place for deciding who qualifies for early release from probation?

3)      How have the Douglas administration’s job cuts affected the ability of his Corrections department to protect Vermonters?

4)      What is the caseload of parole officers, and is that a factor in this case? 
5)      How many positions in the parole system are unfilled?
6)      What other key elements of our laws to prevent sexual violence are not being adequately managed?
7)      Have the Special Investigative Units that have been budgeted for been put into action, and if not, why not?
8)      What can be done through better management of the Department of Corrections to make sure our children and our communities are safe?

Regarding calls for a special session: if the Governor calls a special session, I will be there.  Legislative leaders set the agenda for special sessions, and I want to assure Vermonters that I will demand any special session addresses why our current laws are not being enforced by the Douglas administration before we talk about adding more laws.  We must do first things first.  It is much more important right now to find out why this convicted sex offender was set free and fix the problems that lead to his early release so that we don’t have a repeat of this failure. I also want to know why the Douglas administration is moving so slowly on appointing special investigators that could play a critical role in solving these cases.

As Governor I would be using this case as an opportunity to remind parents that they need to communicate with their children on a daily basis and be aware of how they are spending their time online and in the community.

-Dan Barlow

Why does Tom Arnold hate Vermont?

Because it is hot and there is no air conditioning at his bed and breakfast.

Via the Boston Herald:

“I was going nuts in Chester,” said Arnold, who filmed “Moonlight and Mistletoe,” a Hallmark Channel holiday flick with Barbara Niven and Candace Cameron Bure, in the southern Vermont burg last month. (The TV movie premieres Nov. 29.)

“It was 110 degrees out and I was staying at a bed and breakfast, and I had no air conditioning,” groused Arnold. “It was like ‘The Truman Show,’ in that everyone knew where I was staying.

“I got in my car after shooting when I had a break and my driver said, ‘Back to the Fullerton Inn?’ and I said, ‘No, we’re going to Boston.’ He said, ‘Do you know how far away that is?’ I said, ‘I have no idea. Just drive.’ ”

During the 150-mile, 2 -hour trip, the Hollywood guy worked the phones and landed a room at the Marriott Long Wharf.

-Dan Barlow

First gubernatorial debate scheduled

Looks like our three major gubernatorial candidates will face off for the first time later this month.

Organized by the Vermont Natural Resource Council and moderated by Rutland Herald opinion page editor David Moats, the debate is scheduled for July 20th at 5:30 p.m. at the Lareau Farm in Waitsfield.

The official PR is below:

VNRC Co-Hosts First Gubenatorial Debate of 2008

Focus will be on Environment, Food

Montpelier— Vermont’s three major gubernatorial candidates will square 
off in their first formal debate of the 2008 election to discuss some 
of the most important issues for Vermonters today, including the 
environment, energy, food and farming.

The debate among the three hopefuls — Republican incumbent Jim 
Douglas, Democrat Gaye Symington and Progressive Anthony Pollina —will 
take place on July 20 at the Lareau Farm (next to American Flatbread) 
in Waitsfield. The debate begins at 5:30 p.m. and is co-hosted by the 
Vermont Natural Resources Council, American Flatbread Company and 
Vermont Localvores.

“These are challenging times, and Vermonters need strong, visionary 
and creative leadership,” said Elizabeth Courtney, VNRC’s executive 
director.

“This debate will focus on some of the issues Vermonters care about 
most: Creating walkable, vibrant communities, building a strong 
homegrown food and farming system, keeping our farms and forests 
productive and wild, and reducing the growing burden of energy costs 
on Vermonters by expanding efficiency and renewable energy 
opportunities,” Courtney said. “With that information, Vermonters can 
decide for themselves who is the best choice in November to lead us 
into the future.”

“The debate will also focus on food and agricultural policy,” said 
George Schenk, founder and owner of American Flatbread Company. 
“Vermonters are increasingly interested in where our food comes from, 
how it’s grown and processed, and its effect on the well-being of the 
environment and our health.”

David Moats, the Pulitzer-prize winning editorial page editor of the 
Rutland Herald will moderate the debate.

Immediately following the debate, guests can mingle with the 
candidates as well as their friends and neighbors over a scrumptious 
feast of American Flatbread, local greens and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
(Flatbread and drinks will be available for purchase; ice cream and 
salad is complimentary.) Childcare will be provided free of charge 
during the debate. The Anthony Santor jazz trio will play music during 
dinner.

The Lareau Farm is located on Route 100 in Waitsfield at the home of 
American Flatbread. Attendance at the debate is free and all are 
welcome and encouraged to attend.  For more details about the debate, 
please visit the Calendar of Events at www.vnrc.org or call 
802-223-2328.

-Dan Barlow