NEWPORT CITY – Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan, who is taking on William Sorrell for the office of Vermont Attorney General, made a whirlwind stop in Newport, Monday.
Donovan and Sorrell are both Democrats.
“I think it’s time for a change,” said Donovan, when asked why he was going against another Democrat. “I think after 15 years we need new ideas, new energy and new engagement from the office of the attorney general.”
Donovan feels there has been too much political rhetoric on the issue of Vermont Yankee.
“That plant is going to shut down,” said Donovan. “Whether it's the result of a legal issue, I don’t know, but it’ll probably shut down as business decision. The oldest plant in the world is 44 years old. Vermont Yankee just turned 40. We need to plan to for the end game.”
The decommissioning fund is short $500 million, said Donovan. He said Vermont's taxpayers, environment and security need protection.
Vermonters need better engagement out of the office of attorney general, Donovan said. The office needs to work with legislators so, when they pass laws, the laws stand up in court.
The attorney general’s office needs to address the number one public safety issue in the state, which is illegal prescription drug use, Donovan said, which drives up crime and is a public health issue. In one year, one million oxycotin pills were distributed in Rutland County, a place that has a population of 66,000 people.
“One in seven babies born in Rutland will be addicted,” said Donovan. He said that Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn has stated that more people die of opiate overdoses than they do highway fatalities. “I support passage of a Good Samaritan Law, which basically says if you need help you get it. We’re not going to prosecute you for possession.”
The law is about saving lives and working with the medical community to make sure prescription recipients are screened for addictions before getting medication. Donovan also wants medical professional laws to ensure patients aren’t doctor shopping.
Donovan is in favor of modifying a decriminalizing marijuana policy, but is not in of favor of making it legal.
“If you get convicted of a drug offense of marijuana, you are then ineligible to receive federal student loans,” said Donovan, who wants young people to go to college. “What we want to do is have a system in place where we’re holding people accountable" either through civil fines, education or counseling. "But we’re also retaining the right for young people to go on to college and receive those federal student loans. I don’t think anybody wants to take away a young person’s right or ability to go to college because they got caught smoking a joint.”
Donovan wants to reform and unite the state’s justice system.
"We have 14 different criminal justice systems in 14 counties in this state,” he said. “It’s a great cost to the taxpayers and the people.”
The corrections budget, in the last 15 years, increased 200 percent, said Donovan. He said the state needs leadership from the chief law enforcement officer in the state and attorney general to implement best practices. Donovan started a community program in Chittenden County to look for the underline root causes of crime, often caused by mental illness and substance abuse.
“Nobody is going to be tougher on crime than me; I’ve demonstrated that in Chittenden County,” Donovan said. “Anytime there is a crime of violence, which a burglary home invasion is, we put those people in jail.”
There are better ways to handle a 27-year-old pregnant mother who is struggling from addictions than to put her in prison, Donovan said.
Donovan said that a lack of jobs is one reason for high crime rates.
“The best form of public safety is a good job,” said Donovan. “Not everyone is going to work behind a desk, not everybody is going to work on a computer, but what we can do is teach people how to build things and fix things.”
Donovan believes in expungement for some crimes so people are not held back because of their mistakes.
Donovan said he has the endorsement of the Vermont State Police Association, the Sheriff’s Association and several mayors across the state.