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McDonnell Proposes Drug Courts, Lifetime Sex Offender Tracking

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 13, 2009

RICHMOND, Aug. 12 -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell released a lengthy proposal Wednesday designed to curb crime in Virginia, including lifetime monitoring for sexual predators through the Global Positioning System and other technology.

The former prosecutor and attorney general also said he has reversed his position on drug courts and now supports opening more of them in the state after recent studies documented their successes.

McDonnell's announcement at the annual Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Newport News was the second of three about public safety. He released a plan to address gang violence in May, and a third announcement is expected next week.

"I think public safety is the first and foremost duty of government," he said in an interview. "If people don't feel secure in their homes and their neighborhoods and their businesses, they are not going to be free to pursue the American dream."

McDonnell acknowledged that some of his proposals might be opposed by members of his party in the General Assembly, which would need to approve them, but said he would be a governor who could forge compromises among both chambers and both parties.

His Democratic opponent, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), plans to release a public safety plan in the coming weeks. Deeds spokesman Mike Gehrke said McDonnell's plan is not comprehensive because it does not address money for law enforcement.

"After seeing the proposal, I'm pretty surprised that Bob McDonnell would stand in front of a room full of police chiefs and not offer one dime for officers on the street," Gehrke said.

The Democratic Party attacked McDonnell for voting against state budgets that included more money for the police and for opposing federal stimulus money that included more than $5 million in law enforcement grants.

Democrats have used the same attack -- accusing McDonnell of voting against funding -- on a variety of issues every day this week. McDonnell called their accusations "flat wrong."

"They are looking backward, as they have for a good part of this campaign," he said.

McDonnell's 14-page plan does not include a price tag, but he said he would pay for most of the cost through increasing the fees paid by people convicted of crimes, some of which have not been raised in four decades. Under his proposal, fees for misdemeanors would increase from $5 to $15, and fees for felonies would increase from $15 to $40.

Other proposals include: implementing tougher mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drug offenders; increasing the penalty for a convicted sex offender who fails to register with the state; creating an advisory board to tackle domestic violence; and requiring that juveniles charged with repeat violent felonies be tried as adults.

But the most significant changes would be the lifetime monitoring of sexual predators and an increase in drug courts. McDonnell said he does not know how many sexual predators would be eligible, since many of them already face civil commitment.

He said he had not advocated drug courts until a recent study by the state Supreme Court showed that they are effective.

Virginia has 28 drug courts: Half are funded by the state at a cost of $2.9 million a year, and the others are funded by localities.

Each year, legislators split over whether Virginia should continue to keep open its drug courts, which opponents argue duplicate the functions of probation and parole officers.

Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that he supports drug courts in concept but that the state needs to figure out how -- and whether -- it should pay for them.

Deeds spent Wednesday in Richmond, meeting behind closed doors with supporters, speaking to the Virginia Association of Counties and participating in an online chat with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where he spoke about transportation and the importance of access to birth control.

Deeds said in the chat that he would sign a bill that raised taxes for roads, if it was passed by the General Assembly with bipartisan consensus. In the past, Deeds has declined to say whether he would raise taxes.

McDonnell was joined Wednesday by state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II of Fairfax County, the Republican nominee for attorney general, one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly. It was their first appearance together since they won their party's nominations.

Cuccinelli's opponent, Del. Stephen C. Shannon (D-Fairfax), released a proposal to combat drunken driving Wednesday.

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