GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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March 25, 2012

Tarr sees progress on crime bill

BOSTON — Despite having more than a week to review a House offer for compromise on a sweeping crime and sentencing reform package, state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and the two other senators negotiating the deal are still working on a counteroffer that is likely to differ significantly from the House.

"We're close," said Tarr, the Gloucester Republican who has taken a lead role on many aspects of the bill, including those that add tougher sanctions for repeat offenders. "We're not necessarily close with the House proposal, but we are coming closer in terms of our own proposal."

He said the counteroffer would likely be ready in time for the next conference committee meeting scheduled for this week.

The six-member overall conference committee met Thursday morning, 11 days after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty presented a proposal that severely narrowed the list of crimes that would result in an automatic maximum sentence for three-time repeat offenders.

The House offer also proposes shrinking from 1,000 feet to 100 the zone around schools in which drug crimes carry a mandatory minimum sentence, would ease mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders, and would eliminate a provision backed by the Senate to expand the wiretapping power of state police.

The Senate conferees — Tarr, Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, and Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen — met prior to the full conference committee meeting to discuss their priorities for the bill, on which even those three are still far apart on certain issues.

O'Flaherty, who has been on the defensive after a Boston Globe columnist harshly criticized the Chelsea Democrat for his opposition to a separate bill lifting the statute of limitation on child sex crimes, brought a bouquet of flowers to the meeting for Creem, thanking her for supportive comments made to the News Service earlier in the week.

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