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July 30, 2012

Governor's crime bill 'safety valve' draws Tarr's fire

Tarr, Hill decry Patrick's '11th-hour' amendment

Unsatisfied by the lack of judicial discretion in the sentencing bill before him, Gov. Deval Patrick on Saturday sent back the sentencing reform bill sometimes called “three strikes” or “Melissa’s bill,” asking the Legislature to add a “safety valve” so that judges might have more discretion in allowing habitual offenders to avoid serving the maximum sentence without parole.

Patrick’s amendment would allow a judge to add the option of parole for habitual offenders convicted of a certain third felony and marked to receive the maximum sentence without the possibility of parole under the bill the Legislature sent Patrick last week with veto-proof and bipartisan support.

“I believe the new habitual offender law should include limited judicial discretion to ensure that this expansion of mandatory sentencing does not have unjust consequences,” Patrick wrote in a letter he planned to file with the Legislature around noon Saturday. “None of us is wise or prescient enough to foresee each and every circumstance in which the new habitual offender provisions may apply.”

The governor’s weekend action, however, did not sit well with state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, who decried both the governor’s action and the timing of it. While the House passed the bill 139-14 and it cleared the Senate 31-7 — and while legislative leaders appear to have the votes to override a veto — they would not have the opportunity to do so if they reject Patrick’s amendment and he then vetoes the bill after formal sessions end for the year on Tuesday.

“The choice to try to insert this into the process now in the eleventh hour is deeply, deeply unfortunate,” Tarr told the State House News Service. “The clock shouldn’t be the arbiter of public safety in Massachusetts.

““Governor Patrick has had a busy week defending the interests of those who break the law.” Tarr chided in a prepared statement sent to the Times. “He rejected a measure to require proof of legal residence to register a car, has said he will refuse to enforce restrictions on purchases with EBT cards, and now he is trying to provide violent repeat criminals with a ‘safety valve.’

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