GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 12, 2011

State Senate backs tougher crime bill

From Staff And Wire Reports

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.

Under the legislation, individuals convicted of crimes punishable by 21/2 years or more in state prison would be prohibited from possessing firearms. Mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes would be reduced and applied to current inmates, making them eligible for parole if they've served the new reduced sentence. All inmates released from prison would be subject to mandatory supervision.

The bill now heads to the House, and backers in the Senate said they hoped the body would take it up before a seven-week recess begins Wednesday. Many of the proposals in the Senate bill are still pending before the House-controlled Judiciary Committee, which has not yet recommended legislation.

During debate on the bill, senators sped through 76 amendments, adopting a proposal that would permit judges to include pets in restraining orders. Supporters said the proposal would protect domestic violence victims who often remain in abusive situations because of fears about the safety of a pet.

The Senate bill also shrinks the area around schools in which drug offenders are slapped with mandatory minimum sentences of two to three years. The existing zone of 1,000 feet would shrink to 500 feet, according to the bill.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.