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Rell Seeks To Streamline Persistent Offender Law

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief

April 22, 2008

Echoing a proposal by Democrats, Gov. M. Jodi Rell called Monday for overhauling the state's persistent felony offender law sharply increasing the chances of changes in the law before the legislative session ends next month.

Rell wants to rewrite and strengthen the law in a fashion requested by prosecutors and Democrats after the abduction, rape and killing of a woman in New Britain during a home invasion on March 30.

The home invasion, allegedly by a former prisoner and coming nine months after the triple slayings of a family in Cheshire, has helped shine a spotlight on the state's law that Rell says is so convoluted that prosecutors avoid it.

"There's not much point in having a law that no one uses especially when the law is intended to protect the public from the worst of the worst," Rell said Monday. "My proposal eliminates the current distinctions between 'persistent offender,' 'persistent serious offender' and 'persistent dangerous offender.'"

For weeks, Rell and lawmakers have vowed in a legislative election year to crack down on crime and make the streets safer.

"Make no mistake: we will not simply stand by while unrepentant and incorrigible predators kill people," Rell, a Republican, said. "These thugs need to be removed from the street and from society permanently."

Rell's updated plan calls for more than 45 new state employees in a wide variety of positions that focus on crime. She wants 15 new probation officers to monitor sex offenders and other criminals, 10 new clerks in criminal courthouses and nine new detectives in the state police department's major crimes squad. Rell is also seeking five more prosecutors, along with parole officers, social workers and public defenders.

House Speaker James Amann, a Democrat, who has clashed at times with Rell, said he is now willing to work with her to pay for the proposals as part of the state's proposed $18.5 billion budget, which will be finalized in the coming weeks.

"Finally, the governor is listening to those on the front lines of criminal justice and acknowledging that public safety isn't about sound bites and amendments on the fly," Amann said.

"Getting more resources and tools to our prosecutors, judicial branch, parole and probation officers has always been the best way to go."

The proposals are similar to a Democratic plan, announced 10 days ago, for about $15 million for more prosecutors, social workers, investigators and clerical staff.

The plan seeks 14 new prosecutors earning about $67,000 each, eight inspectors to work with prosecutors at about $63,000 each and a computer manager at $110,000, among others. The state's criminal justice division is also seeking cars and mobile radios for the inspectors, plus new office space for the "cold case" unit.

Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane has been working on simplifying the persistent felony offender law, which he once compared to the federal tax code.

"Now it reads like the state tax code instead of the Internal Revenue Service code," Kane said recently.

Aside from the general agreement on fixing a tough-to-administer law, Republicans have vowed that they will continue to push for a vote on the highly controversial "three strikes" proposal in the legislature's final weeks.

The proposal would send criminals to prison for life if they are convicted of three violent felonies.

House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk introduced a three strikes amendment on the House floor last week, but it was defeated on a procedural vote before any extended debate took place.

A debate on the merits is expected in the coming weeks.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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