Baker balks at parts of Senate criminal justice bill

Provisions 'seem to not make a heck of a lot of sense'

STATE HOUSE NEWS

MAJOR PROVISIONS of the criminal justice bill passed late last week by the Senate “just seem to not make a heck of a lot of sense,” Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday, panning the bill for easing sentences for some drug dealers and neglecting other aspects of the justice system.

The Senate passed an omnibus bill (S 2185) late last week repealing mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes and granting people more opportunities to clear their criminal records. Baker had expressed concern with parts of an earlier version of the bill but made clear Tuesday that he has issues with a substantial portion of the bill.

“Obviously it’s a big and complicated bill. I would say there are a bunch of things in there that cause us very significant concern. In the middle of this terrible opioid and heroin epidemic, the legislation, in a number of instances, dramatically reduces the penalties for drug dealers in heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine,” Baker said Tuesday.

He added, “And there are a number of other elements in it that just seem to not make a heck of a lot of sense.”

Among the other provisions Baker flagged were the ability for people serving criminal sentences to retroactively earn “good time,” changes that he said will make it harder for the state to collect child support, and the rejection of an amendment to update the state’s wiretap law.

The governor said he likes that the Senate bill includes language he proposed to make assault and battery on a police officer a felony when it involves bodily injury and a provision that he said will make it easier to arrest, charge and convict fentanyl traffickers. He also indicated a willingness to work on bail reform.

“I think the bail legislation is something we can and should work with, but generally speaking there are some things in there that cause us very significant concern,” Baker said.

Meet the Author
House leaders have yet to unveil a justice reform bill, but Speaker Robert DeLeo reiterated Monday that he wants a bill in conference committee before the Nov. 15 end of formal sessions for the year.

“Before we break I want to get it into conference,” DeLeo said Monday.