House, Senate reject amendment on repeat offender bill, set up showdown with governor
House and Senate lawmakers, setting up a showdown with Governor Deval Patrick, voted on Monday to reject an amendment Patrick had proposed that would have given judges some discretion in sentencing certain repeat offenders.
The legislation, which has pitted the governor against the vast majority of Democratic and Republican legislators, now sits on Patrick’s desk. It would remove the possibility of parole for certain three-time offenders and decrease punishment for non-violent drug offenders. Patrick has 10 days to sign it or veto it.
If Patrick waits until Wednesday to veto it, however, that would effectively kill the bill because formal legislative sessions end Tuesday, so lawmakers will not be able to override his veto.
At an unrelated press conference on Monday, Patrick refused to say if he would veto the bill, insisting he wants legislators to approve his amendment so that judges can weigh the unique circumstances of each case.
“I want that amendment,” he said. “I think that amendment is important.”
Giving judges some flexibility is “not about letting anybody off,” Patrick said.
“The question is whether, after serving a significant amount of time, there are circumstances where a third-time felon ought to be eligible for parole,” he said. “I think there are circumstances we can’t anticipate, where we’d like to see a judge have the authority to consider that.”
Even as Patrick was speaking, however, lawmakers were rejecting his amendment. The House voted 132 to 23 to turn back the changes the governor wanted. Minutes later, the Senate followed suit, on a voice vote without debate.
Lawmakers argued that Patrick’s proposal gives judges flexibility cases involving serious, repeat offenders would undermine the intent of the bill
“I think the amendment just guts the whole bill,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said. “The purpose of this legislation is to state that those people who commit a horrific list of some 40 crimes – the worst of the worst – that they be given a sentence and that they be required to serve that sentence.”
Les Gosule, whose daughter, Melissa, was raped and killed in 1999 by a man who had been convicted of 27 crimes, watched the House vote from the public gallery.
Afterward, he urged the governor to act on the bill before the end of formal sessions Tuesday. That way, he said, even if Patrick vetoes the bill, legislators will have time to override his veto.
“With all due respect to the governor, the last thing that should happen in this country is that you should a lose battle based on the clock,” said Gosule, who has been pushing for the bill for 10 years. “If he is for the bill, then sign it; if he wants to veto the bill, then let him be man enough to veto the bill tomorrow and give a chance for the House and Senate override it.”Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.