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Governor Patrick may sign ‘three strikes’ bill

But urges lawmakers to agree to changes

Governor Deval Patrick signaled Tuesday that he may be open to signing a high-profile crime bill if lawmakers agree to make changes next year.

At the same time, Patrick said he had made no final decision about the bill, which is currently on his desk.

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“It’s a good bill; it’s not a great bill,” Patrick told reporters just ­before he entered a meeting with House and Senate leaders. “There’s a lot of work that has not yet been done, and I’m hoping that I can get a commitment from the leadership, a commitment to come back and do some of it at the beginning of the next session.”

The bill approved by lawmakers last week would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug ­offenses, a Patrick priority, while making many repeat violent offenders ineligible for parole under a much-debated “three-strikes” provision.

The law has drawn wide support among prosecutors, victims’ families, and the Legislature, where lawmakers have responded to public outcry and are eager to look tough on crime during an election year. But it has been heavily criticized by black and Hispanic lawmakers, who say it will add to an ­incarceration crisis in their communities.

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Patrick echoed some critics’ concerns Tuesday, without disparaging the overall thrust of the bill.

“I do wish that this bill had ­retained judicial discretion in some cases, and I need to reflect on what I want to do with that,” he said.

When asked if his comments meant that he planned to sign the bill, rather than amend it or veto it, Patrick demurred.

“It means I’m reflecting on what I’m going to do,” he said.

After the governor spoke, his aides reaffirmed that Patrick — who has until Sunday to sign, amend, or veto the bill — has not made up his mind.

Patrick made a push for ­another bill, still the subject of House-Senate negotiations, that is intended to curb the cost of health care. It has been a priority on Beacon Hill, where the formal session ends July 31.

Patrick said that he has been in close contact with House and ­Senate leaders to discuss the bill, and that “a couple of hard issues” remain unresolved. He did not specify what those issues were, but said he did not expect them to prevent lawmakers from approving legislation that he could support.

“It won’t be the final word, but it’s an important step,” ­Patrick said. “It’s important we close out soon and, given the late hour of the session, that they get me something I can sign, because there isn’t going to be a lot of time for the backing and forthing that sometimes happens.”

Noah Bierman can be reached
at nbierman@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter
@noahbierman.
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