AUBURN, Mass. – State Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) and state Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn) both voted for the highly publicized “three-strikes crime bill,” which passed through the House and Senate last week in Boston.
The bill, which now heads to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk, would eliminate parole for certain three-time violent offenders, while reducing some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
“This will prevent violent offenders from coming back onto the street and back into the community, a loophole that we needed to correct,” Moore said. “It’s definitely a good start, but we have to pay attention to it and see if any issues arise from it.”
The Senate voted 31-7 to pass the crime bill, and the House approved the legislation 139-14.
Some of the 46 crimes that would prevent parole for three-time violent offenders include murder, rape, incest, aggravated assault, home invasion, and possession of child pornography. Those convicted would have to be sentenced to at least three years in state prison for the crime to count as a strike.
“If you’re going to continue to show society that you’re committing violent acts, then you shouldn’t get parole,” Frost said. “It’s a no-brainer. We needed to draw the line.”
Reducing nonviolent drug sentences acts as a balance to the violent three-strikes provision. An example of a drug law change is increasing the weight allowance of some drugs before mandatory minimum sentences are applied.
For instance, minimum sentences for heroin currently take effect at possession of 14 or more grams. That threshold would increase to 18 grams under this bill.
“We have a serious overcrowding problem in our jails, and we need to get nonviolent offenders to address their issues outside of a jail cell, by providing more services for drug and substance abuse issues,” Moore said. “We need them to be rehabilitated and get them off drugs.”
Some lawmakers, including Gov. Patrick, are concerned that the bill doesn’t include a safety valve for judges sentencing repeat felons, taking away all judicial discretion.
But Frost said, “You need to close up the loophole and take it out of the judges’ hands.”
Patrick has 10 days to approve or veto the legislation, or he could send it back to lawmakers with amendments.
Another option is a “pocket veto” in which Patrick does nothing before the Legislature adjourns for the session on July 31. That would make lawmakers call an emergency legislative session to pass the bill into law with a two-thirds vote of both houses.