- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - As Vermont lawmakers finished their fourth meeting about child protection issues Wednesday, the only thing that became clear was how much work remained to be done: senators said they would need more time, more input from Vermonters and possibly subpoena power to dig deep into the state’s child abuse policy.

Panel co-chair Sen. Dick Sears, a Bennington Democrat, said the senators needed additional time to meet over the summer and possibly in the fall.

“And we need to hear from Vermonters, and the only way I know to hear from Vermonters is to get out there with public meetings,” Sears said.

The Senate Review Panel on Child Protection formed in the wake the death of a Rutland County toddler who had a history of child abuse injuries and whose mother was convicted last year of cruelty to a child. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, died in February after suffering severe head trauma. Her stepfather, Dennis Duby, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

This week, the senators heard about protocols from the Vermont Children’s Alliance and others on the front line of child abuse cases including child advocacy groups and police investigators.

Executive Director Jennifer Poehlmann submitted several recommendations, including adopting a stronger child endangerment law and expanding certain protections already available to sexual abuse victims to victims of child abuse. Currently, children who are sexually abused are not required to re-tell their story in court, only to submit to cross examination. They can also testify outside of court if the court process would be deemed traumatic for the child.

The recommendations from the Vermont Children’s Alliance also included child-abuse treatment programming for offenders, changing the family court timeline to allow investigators to fully assess risks and more in-state training, especially for medical providers.

The panel members are also considering using subpoena power to obtain child abuse documents.

The draft resolution to request subpoena power states “for the Panel to fulfill its mandate, it must have the ability to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of records and documents.”

The draft resolution would also allow the panel to meet up to 10 times after the General Assembly is out of session and hold field hearings.

The panel might amend the resolution language and will not make a final decision about filing a resolution for subpoena power until next week at the earliest.

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