TENTATIVE ACCORD REACHED ON GAME-CHANGING CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 21, 2018....The six House and Senate lawmakers negotiating a complex overhaul of the state's sentencing and criminal justice laws have reached a tentative agreement that is expected to be finalized before the end of the week, according to multiple sources.
The conference committee, led by Sen. William Brownsberger and Rep. Claire Cronin, has been privately negotiating the details of the bill since November.
The competing House and Senate bills (H 4043/S 2200) broadly seek to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to encompass 18-year-olds, repeal some mandatory minimums for drug offenses, address the use of solitary confinement and give judges greater leeway in sentencing street level drug-dealers.
Passage of a criminal justice bill in the coming weeks would mark a major accomplishment for lawmakers before they head into the state budget cycle. The emergence of a final legislative compromise could also make clear possible areas of policy differences between lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker.
House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, one of the three House conferees, confirmed to the News Service that the group was nearing a final compromise.
"Things are progressing and there is reason to be optimistic that it will be resolved by the end of the week," the Quincy Democrat said Wednesday.
Several other sources at the State House told the News Service Wednesday that copies of the finalized bill were being circulated among legal counsel for review, and the conference report could be signed by the conferees and filed with the Senate clerk's office by Friday.
Brownsberger did not return a message left on his cellphone on Wednesday.
Gov. Charlie Baker was in Haverhill on Tuesday with a collection of local law enforcement officials and district prosecutors urging the House and Senate to use the criminal justice bill as a vehicle to tweak the state's three-year-old fentanyl trafficking law to make it more enforceable by prosecutors.
Criminal justice reform advocates will also be watching closely to see how the Legislature approaches mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.
Details of the tentative compromise were not immediately available on Wednesday.
Other lawmakers on the conference committee include Rep. Sheila Harrington, a Republican, and Sens. Cynthia Creem and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.
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