Vt. OK's a broader offender registry

By Dave Gram
Associated Press / May 10, 2009
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MONTPELIER - Lawmakers passed a bill yesterday quintupling the size of the state's Internet sex offender registry to protect "families and communities and kids."

The action, which came as the Legislature prepared to adjourn for the year, moves the state closer to but still not into full compliance with a 2006 federal law designed to make responses to sex crimes more uniform around the country.

The bill also addresses a practice popular among teenagers in which they use cellphone cameras to send sexually explicit photos of themselves to friends. It calls for prosecuting most such cases, called sexting, in juvenile court.

Vermont has about 400 people on its public Internet registry, with a larger registry available to law enforcement and certain employers such as schools. The bill aims to broaden significantly the range of sex crimes deemed serious enough to have the offender on the Internet and would boost the number of people whose information is posted online to an estimated 2,000.

Governor Jim Douglas is expected to sign the bill into law, but a date for that has not been set.

Douglas and Senator Richard Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a key author of the bill, praised the work of the state's congressional delegation in asking the US Department of Justice for more time to comply with the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

The bill was the state's second relating to sex offenses passed this year, and it came after last summer's kidnap, rape, and homicide of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. Brooke disappeared June 25, 2008, and her body was found a week later in a shallow grave.

Brooke's uncle Michael Jacques, a convicted sex offender, has been charged with the crime. Prosecutors said Jacques coerced another girl into aiding his plot by claiming to be part of a child-sex club. Jacques has pleaded not guilty.