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Massachusetts Lawmakers Facing Decisions On Crime Bills

       Massachusetts state senators are holding a private retreat in Boston today to discuss what to include in a criminal justice reform bill.  Legislative leaders say they hope to pass sweeping crime legislation before the end of the year.

       Dozens of crime-related bills were filed at the start of the legislative session and many have been the subject of often lengthy hearings by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. The bills must be reported out of committee before coming up for votes in the House and Senate.

   There are several bills pending that would increase penalties for crimes against police officers.

    Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is looking to increase punishment for people who assault police officers.

   "This legislation makes it possible for judges to pursue a dangerousness hearing if they believe it is warranted and the second thing it does is makes bodily harm on a police officer -- not a push or shove -- but literally something that translates into bodily harm on a police officer makes that a felony," explained Baker.

   Under current law, assault and battery on a police officer is a misdemeanor.  Baker, a Republican, supports making it a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail and a maximum of ten years in prison.

   Baker filed a similar bill last year.  It never came to a vote in the legislature. 

   The original bill was drafted after the killing of Auburn Police Officer Ronald Tarentino during a traffic stop in May 2016.  The suspect, Jorge Zambrano, who was later shot and killed by police, had a history of arrests for assaults on police officers.

    " I would hope the legislature looks favorably on this and it helps us avoid tragedies like what cost Officer Tarentino his life," said Baker.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts opposed Baker’s original bill arguing that current laws already provide police officers with adequate protections.

    Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno this week renewed his call for the legislature to pass a bail reform bill.  

   In a statement issued by his office Tuesday night, Sarno said he was “livid” at learning that a Hampden Superior Court judge had lowered bail from $25,000 to $10,000 for a man charged with carrying an unlicensed firearm. It was the second time the man was charged with the same offense.

  Sarno, a Democrat, has repeatedly complained about “lenient” judges letting people he describes as “repeat violent offenders” go free on low bail.

         A bill supported by Sarno would allow prosecutors to appeal bail rulings by judges. Current law allows defendants to appeal to lower the bail set by a judge, but prosecutors cannot appeal to seek a higher amount of bail.

  " This legislation takes away no rights from the defendants," insisted Sarno. " It just puts us, we the people of the Commonwealth, on an equal playing field."

  The legislation is opposed by the Hampden County Bar Association, which in a statement said Sarno was “misguided” to blame Springfield’s violent crime problems on bail decisions by judges.

  Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey testified Tuesday at a judiciary committee hearing in support of a bill to increase the fine for corporate manslaughter from $1,000 to $250,000.  Also convicted corporations would be barred from obtaining state contracts for 10 years.

 Healey said the statute has not been changed since the 1800’s.

  In support of the bill, Healey’s office has offered several examples where corporations were held criminally responsible for deaths, including a tunnel ceiling collapse in Boston where a motorist died, and contaminated steroids produced by a Framingham compounding pharmacy that killed 64 people.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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