Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jan 2012
Source: Daily Press (Newport News,VA)
Copyright: 2012 The Daily Press
Author: Todd Allen Wilson


Gov. Also Looks to Expand Drug Courts As Part of Public Safety Agenda

RICHMOND -- Gov. Bob McDonnell announced his public safety agenda for 
the General Assembly session Thursday which includes increased 
sentences for repeat drug dealers, expansion of local drug courts and 
an alternative program for non-violent offenders who violate probation.

"Public safety really is the first and foremost duty of government at 
every level," McDonnell said. "People must feel safe in their homes, 
their neighborhoods, their church, their synagogue if they are going 
to really get access to the American dream."

McDonnell said one of his main priorities is to target drug dealers 
who are repeat offenders. He is backing legislation to impose a 
mandatory five-year sentence for conviction of a second offense on 
drug dealing charges, excluding marijuana, and a mandatory 10-year 
sentence for a third offense.

He said the "drug problem" contributes either directly or indirectly 
to 60 to 70 percent of crime in the commonwealth.

"If you're going to deal drugs in Virginia be on notice, " the 
governor said. "You're going to prison for a lot longer period of 
time at the end of this session."

York-Poquoson Sheriff Danny Diggs, who also heads the Virginia 
Sheriffs Association and attended McDonnell's press conference, said 
McDonnell was taking a "common sense" approach to his public safety agenda.

"If people haven't learned their lesson, and you get caught dealing 
heroin, cocaine the second time there should be more severe 
penalties," Diggs said. "Hopefully, that will put a stop to it and 
make people think about what they're doing."

The governor said he wants to expand local drug courts, like the one 
in Newport News, by giving localities the ability to open drug courts 
without having to get permission from the state as long as the 
localities use their own money to pay for them.

"Rather than have to make individual petitions, if (localities) can 
afford it on their own, I'd like to see them have that authority," 
McDonnell said.

Aiming to help convicted felons reenter society, the governor is 
proposing a pilot program to give non-violent offenders who 
technically violate their probation alternatives to returning to 
court. The program is called Sanctions with Unified Rapid Enforcement, or SURE.

"I believe we're a nation of second chances; everybody makes 
mistakes," McDonnell said. "But if you want to fix your problems and 
be a productive citizen we want to help you."

He said the SURE program will allow law enforcement to deal with 
technical violations right away, serve as a deterrent and free up 
space on court dockets.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli joined McDonnell at the press 
conference and announced a proposal to help families of law 
enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

The measure, Cuccinelli said, would allow the governor to release 
$20,000 of the $100,000 families receive when faced with such a 
tragedy before the state investigation is complete.

"This is so families in this tragic time of need have funds available 
to them just to do things they didn't plan on doing that week because 
of that tragedy," Cuccinelli said. "They've got to bury a family 
member. They've got to deal with all the consequences of that."

The attorney general is also backing a measure that would allow a 
person forced into prostitution through human trafficking to use that 
as an "affirmative defense" if arrested on prostitution charges.

McDonnell is also pushing a proposal to strengthen enforcement of 
protective orders by requiring courts to enter orders into the 
Virginia Criminal Information Network by the end of the business day 
they were granted.

The governor is also seeking mandatory minimum life sentences for 
people convicted of rape, sodomy or penetration against a child under 
the age of 13.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, R-James City, who 
chairs the Senate's Courts of Justice Committee, said public safety 
is a "bipartisan issue" and by focusing on enhanced sentencing and 
prisoner reentry programs the governor is taking a "panoramic approach."

"The governor of Virginia and the attorney general are taking a very 
proactive and visionary approach toward maintaining a civilized 
society here in the commonwealth of Virginia," Norment said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom