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Latest pitch on three-strikes bill may have been a foul tip

Posted in: Courts
Tags: Prison overcrowding Probation Romney Brown Warren




If you’re having a hard time figuring this Legislature out, especially the House, join the crowd. Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted last week to override three of Gov. Deval Patrick’s vetoes in the budget by margins that would make him think someone changed his party registration without telling him.

But now, they’re making noises like they hope the peripatetic governor saves them from themselves, kind of a “Stop us before we kill again” moment. A six-member negotiation team of House and Senate members voted to send a compromise “three strikes” bill with sentencing reform to the full Legislature. But their comments would have you think that was the purpose of their appointments, not to actually find a bill that would survive.

Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty of Chelsea, the lead House conferee and soon-to-be former Judiciary Committee co-chairman, acknowledged that Patrick wanted a bill that made compromises in sentencing and penalties that would help reduce the bursting-at-the-seams state prisons. But O’Flaherty doesn’t know if this measure meets that demand.

In addition, O’Flaherty, who has a law practice, also expressed his reservations for eliminating judicial discretion in sentencing even though he voted to move the bill.

“Anytime that we add more mandatory minimum sentences it concerns me,” he told the State House News Service. “I think that in Massachusetts we have a judiciary that’s appointed and they’re appointed to exercise their judgment.”

So why vote in favor? Good question. Sen. Cynthia Creem, who was the sole vote against letting the compromise see the light of day, says she was troubled by the “last minute” decision by House members to remove a “safety valve” that would have allowed judges to sentence nonviolent drug offenders to parole.

It’s the latest turn of events in the ongoing struggle in how to decide what to do with society’s miscreants and at what cost. Earlier this year, CommonWealth had a story focusing on how some conservative-led states are rethinking the way they use the prison system. It seems to run counter to what the Legislature is trying to deliver to a reluctant governor.

Last year at this time, Patrick and his Secretary of Public Safety Mary Beth Heffernan were declaring that the funding offered by the Legislature would force the administration to close two prisons and release some offenders early in order to relieve overcrowding. Lawmakers upped the Department of Correction budget but Patrick still insisted sentencing reform was essential to thwart future problems.

In January, the administration released a Master Plan by the Division of Capital Asset Management that said prison overcrowding was going to cost the state $2.3 billion over the next decade without serious reform. The plan, which called for alternative sentencing for some nonviolent offenders, said any bill that reduces judicial discretion in sentencing would only exacerbate the already untenable situation in the state’s 18 corrections facilities.

Little of that, it seems, is part of the compromise bill. Now it’s up to Patrick to decide if legislators mean business, or are just going through the motions for perception’s sake.

                                                                                                                               --JACK SULLIVAN



BEACON HILL

The Legislature voted to take an up-or-down vote on the casino compact Gov. Deval Patrick signed with the Mashpee Wampanoag, preventing the addition of any amendments.

The Massachusetts House overrides several Patrick vetoes, including the restoration of $450,000 for projects in Lowell, the Sun reports.

Representatives from groups representing electricity generators and environmental activists protest a bill that would guarantee a 15-year power contract to a company planning to build a natural gas plant on the site of the coal-fired plant in Salem, the Salem News reports.

The Vote 17 bill pushed by teenagers in Lowell appears to be dead for this session, the Lowell Sun reports. Yet media fascination with the story continues to grow, as the Wall Street Journal reports on the student effort.

Two of aides to former probation commissioner John O’Brien have been granted immunity in exchange for their testimony against him, the Globe reports. Howie Carr reveals the two questions running through O’Brien’s mind right now: “Is it too late for me to get on the train? Who can I give them?” One Democratic legislator tells the Herald, “This isn’t over by a long shot.”

The Herald calls Patrick’s bluff and tries to videotape legislators arriving in the State House garage, with predictable results.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua presses Cardinal Sean O’Malley to sell surplus church property without restrictions on its usage, particularly a prohibition against use as a charter school, the Eagle-Tribune reports. The practice originally came to light in a CommonWealth story and followup article.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch reappointed the man he initially tapped as fire chief after an outside panel of fire chiefs mandated by the Civil Service Commission recommended his selection.

The creative economy coordinator position in Holyoke is has attracted more than a dozen candidates.

Animal control officers captured an escaped 12-foot python in Plymouth but residents are upset that no official notification ever went out from public safety officials about the threat in a residential neighborhood filled with children and small pets.

CASINOS

The state Gaming Commission hears testimony that the casino market is rapidly shifting underneath the state’s feet, but one of the House’s point men on gaming remains adamant about the state licensing three casinos.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Planned Parenthood fights Arizona law in court, The Daily Beast reports.

Democrats plan to get around Republicans’ pledge not to vote to raise taxes by allowing all of the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of this year, and then voting to reinstate all but those affecting the wealthy, the Globe reports.

ELECTION 2012

The editors of the conservative National Review call on Mitt Romney to release more tax returns and move in, saying “Perception matters.” The GOP pressure on Romney reveals how little respect he commands, even as the party’s nominee, the Atlantic argues.

Meanwhile, Romney says at a Mississippi fundraiser that the label of the GOP as the “party of the rich” is “an awful moniker.” He then handed out his new equally-bad moniker: “We’re the party of people who want to get rich.” Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh thinks the villain in the new Batman movie, Bane, is a deliberate attempt to smear Romney. Except that the character was created in the 1990s by a conservative writer.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is way too fun to become Romney’s VP pick.

The Globe finds that Scott Brown is raising most of his high-dollar donations from Massachusetts, in contrast to Elizabeth Warren, whose large donations came mostly from out of state.

Elizabeth Warren talks about financial accountability during a forum at the JFK Library.

Obama volunteers are campaigning in solidly red states like Alabama in order to put them in play for Democrats years from now, the Globe reports.

Scot Lehigh compares Romney’s fiscal plan to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s.

Former state senator Andrea Nucifuro discusses rebuilding the middle class as he campaigns for Congress in North Adams.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Reports says looming defense cuts could shut down GE plant in Lynn, the city’s biggest employer, the Item reports. Officials in Phoenix and San Diego say the cuts will be devastating for their communities, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

The CEO of Polartec in Lawrence says he is stepping down as the parent company prepares to sell the firm, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

EDUCATION

MIT promotes online teaching by paying students $1,000 for each instructional video they create, WBUR reports.

HEALTH CARE

The Lawrence Health Board proposes a plan to combat obesity that includes a limit on fast-food restaurants, restrictions on sugary drinks, more hiking trails, and expanded farmers markets. The story by the Eagle-Tribune calls Lawrence the most obese city in the state.

A rolling rally is held downtown to honor Massachusetts General Hospital for winning the top spot in US News and World Report’s hospital rankings, NECN reports.

The state will begin spraying for mosquitoes in 11 communities in the south after EEE-infected bugs were discovered. Here’s NECN’s report.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gordon van Welie, the head of the region’s power grid operator, explains in a Perspective piece for CommonWealth why the shift to natural gas is good and bad.

Permits for building commercial wind turbines in a 250-square mile area on the Atlantic Continental Shelf off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island could be issued as early as December, but developers would have to agree to at least five years of study on environmental impact.

The Fall River Redevelopment Authority wants assurances that a proposed biogas plant that will turn food waste into energy will be a good neighbor by keeping odor down and washing out delivery trucks before they leave the facility.

The Cape is second only to Boston for the number of installed, large scale solar projects.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

David Kennedy, the architect of Boston’s successful anti-gang strategy of the 1990s, tells CommonWealth how the mayhem of urban gun violence can be stopped.

New evidence may help solve the mystery behind who kidnapped and killed Molly Bish, a private investigator tells Greater Boston.

MEDIA

What publications do bloggers link to? A Poynter study offers answers.

Incoming New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan shares lessons learned in her handling of a controversial crime story in Buffalo in Nieman Reports.

A Chinese theme park offers discounts to women who wear mini-skirts, Time reports.

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