New rules would toughen parole for repeat violent felons
Legislation tightening parole eligibility rules for repeat violent offenders in Massachusetts should be ready for the Senate to consider next week, Senate President Therese Murray said Thursday as one senator involved in the bill's drafting said family members of individuals murdered by paroled offenders will be pleased by the legislation.
"The parole bill will be ready to go to the full Senate I believe by next week," Murray told WATD-FM. "It's being ironed out by the committee members in the Senate."
Murray also predicted a final Senate vote on expanded gambling legislation could come today or next week and said there's a chance House and Senate casino bills may not differ substantially. The Plymouth Democrat also said redrawn House and Senate district maps might not be unveiled for two weeks.
Murray mentioned Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr as actively involved in assembling the parole bill. Tarr and a bipartisan group of senators this year have pushed proposals to prohibit parole eligibility for three-time violent felons and criminals sentenced to more than one life term, to require individuals serving a life sentence to serve a minimum of 25 years before qualifying for parole, to require prosecutors and victims to receive advance notice of parole hearings, to establish procedures for removing parole board members for cause and to require the parole hearing outcomes to be posted on the internet.
"The essence of what we filed will be reflected in the bill," Tarr told the News Service when apprised of Murray's comments. "It will provide serious reform for repeat [violent] offenders and curtail their ability to be eligible for parole as well as those serving multiple life sentences."
???? Bills overhauling the parole system remain before the Judiciary Committee. Tarr said a bill relating to parole in the Senate Ways and Means Committee will likely be used to move the Senate's proposal, which was crafted in part by a working group featuring Tarr, Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), Sen. Steven Baddour (D-Methuen) and Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.
???? Murray named the four senators this summer to help craft a comprehensive bill to tackle habitual offenders and general sentencing reforms that could address Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to make non-violent offenders eligible for release after serving half their maximum sentence.
The main thrust of most reform bills surround eliminating parole for certain repeat violent felons, with Republicans pushing a bill known as Melissa's Law. In March, Les Gosule, the father of the 27-year-old murder victim Melissa's law is named after, urged lawmakers to act on reforms that have long faltered within the Legislature. His daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1999 on Cape Cod by a habitual violent criminal released on parole. Gosule has testified on the bill every year for 10 years.
The murder of Woburn police officer John Maguire in December by a paroled violent criminal renewed debate around eliminating parole for third-time felons. In the wake of Maguire's death, Gov. Patrick filed legislation to reform parole eligibility, as well as overhaul the state's parole board. The board had granted parole to Dominic Cinelli, who killed Maguire, and five board members resigned.
Tarr said he's been in regular contact with Les Gosule and Chuck Maguire, John Maguire's brother. "I think they will be pleased with the core elements of the bill," Tarr said. "It should be ready for a floor vote next week. My philosophy about this is we can't do it soon enough and it's long overdue."
Baddour said the bill would incorporate ideas recommended by all members of the Senate, not just the working group. "When you're dealing with 40 members as opposed to the small group of us supporting that plan, there will be changes," he said. "It will be comprehensive and tough on habitual offenders."
Currently in Massachusetts, convicted felons are eligible for parole after serving half of their sentence, except for first-degree murderers, who are not eligible for parole. Those convicted of second degree murder must serve 15 years of a life sentence before they are eligible for parole.
Melissa's bill would eliminate any chance for parole for those convicted of a third felony. The governor's proposal would allow those convicted of a third felony to serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are eligible for parole.
Opponents of mandatory sentencing argued that the language in both Melissa's bill and the governor's bill is too broad, and does not limit the sentencing guidelines to only violent felons. Many felony drug convictions would fall within the proposed law, opponents said.
On the issue of expanded gambling, Murray said a final Senate vote "may be today," but cautioned that several amendments to the bill are still pending. "It might be put off until next week," she said.
Entering its sixth day of deliberations on the bill, the Senate has 18 amendments remaining out of an original batch of 182 amendments.
Addressing the flap over the Senate's vote this week to give bars and restaurants the same rights as casinos under the gambling bill to serve free alcoholic beverages to patrons, Murray said, "I don't think it was meant to put happy hour back. I think it was to make a level playing field for restaurants outside the casino area because casinos do offer free drinks inside if you are gambling. And it's got a long way to go. It still has to survive the rest of the debate and it has to survive conference."
Murray noted a six-member conference committee last year resolved differences between House and Senate casino bills in a month. "I don't think there's that many differences between the House so far and the Senate bill, but we still have a lot of amendments to go through today," she said.
Lawmakers continue to work behind the scenes to redraw Congressional and legislative districts. Further delays could complicate matters for candidates for the House in 2012, who must live in their district for one year prior to the election.
"We hope to see House and Senate maps by the week after next at the latest," Murray said.
Murray said Sen. Steven Tolman, who has opted to remain in the Senate and has continued voting on bills despite his election last week as president of the Massachusetts chapter of the AFL-CIO, will resign Thursday "whether we pass the bill or not," referring to the gambling bill.
She said a primary election to fill Tolman's seat could be held in December, with a general election in January.
Reps. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont) and Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) intend to run in the special election. Murray said other potential candidates are probably keeping an eye on redistricting efforts.
"There will be changes in the district for the person who runs next September and November," she said. "So I think they'll all be kind of waiting to see what the maps look like."