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November 12, 2011

State Senate backs tougher crime bill

The state Senate, with Gloucester's Bruce Tarr playing a leading role, has unanimously adopted an omnibus crime package that includes a proposal to deny parole eligibility to three-time violent felons and makes changes in gun and sentencing laws.

"The people who will deal in death and administer death to others will be dealt with accordingly," Senate President Therese Murray said after casting her vote in support of the legislation Thursday. "I'm very proud of this body."

The bill passed with the family members of Melissa Gosule and John Maguire - both killed by habitual offenders who would never have been released from prison under the provisions of the bill - looking on from the public gallery.

Gosule was the namesake for Melissa's Law, a proposal that Republicans, including Tarr, the Senate Minority Leader, have long pushed with little Democratic support in previous sessions.

Maguire was a Woburn police officer killed last December by a habitual offender who had recently been paroled.

"It's balanced. It's tough where we need to be tough," said Sen. Steven Baddour, the Methuen Democrat who, along with Tarr, Senate Judiciary Committee co-chairwoman Cynthia Creem, and Senate budget chief Stephen Brewer, crafted the legislation.

Tarr and Baddour, in a joint statement across party lines, said the parole provisions in the bill have a basic purpose:

"We must ensure that those individuals who receive multiple life sentences or commit three violent offenses are not eligible for parole," they said. "The residents of Massachusetts — especially the families of those who have been victimized by habitual offenders — deserve a parole system that is accountable and emphasizes public safety."

Critics, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, ripped the bill as too heavily weighted in support of mandatory minimum sentences without enough understanding of potential costs or efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.

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