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    Talks indicate crime bill conferees still appear far apart

    State lawmakers might craft a deal focused on felons

    House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s point man in talks with the Senate about omnibus crime and sentencing legislation raised the prospect Friday that the two sides could fail to reach agreement and suggested that they consider passing a narrow bill that could win support.

    In a meeting with five other lawmakers negotiating the bill, state Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, Democrat of Chelsea, wondered whether the Senate would be open to jettisoning the bulk of its proposal - including changes to wiretapping, restraining order, drug, and sentencing policies - for a plan that would crack down on habitual felons.

    “It would be a terrible shame to allow the session to expire without having dealt with habitual recidivist issues,’’ O’Flaherty said at an afternoon meeting of the conference committee.


    O’Flaherty pointed out that issues related to habitual offenders - most notably the shooting death of a Woburn police officer by a career criminal out on parole in 2010 - is “what originally brought us all to the table.’’ That proposal would require that offenders who commit their third serious felony face the maximum possible sentence without the possibility of parole.

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    State Senator Cynthia Creem, Democrat of Newton and the lead Senate negotiator, said the Senate has long contended that it would only back a “balanced bill.’’

    “I don’t think the Senate as a whole is prepared to deal with one piece without the whole,’’ she said.

    Governor Deval Patrick has also called for a bill that not only cracks down on repeat offenders but softens penalties for nonviolent drug offenders, a proposal he said would free up jail space and ensure that lower-level offenders get access to programs and treatment rather than let out on the street without support.

    The Senate passed its wide-ranging bill in November shortly before a seven-week recess, and the House quickly followed suit, passing a bill that stripped all of the Senate’s proposals except for the crackdown on habitual offenders.


    The negotiating panel, led by O’Flaherty and Creem, was named in December and has met intermittently since. Other members include state Representatives David Linsky, Democrat of Natick, and Brad Hill, Republican of Ipswich, and state Senators Jennifer Flanagan, Democrat of Leominster, and Bruce Tarr, Republican of Gloucester.

    Linsky suggested a balanced bill would include the crackdown on habitual offenders, changes to the operation of the Parole Board, changes to parole eligibility for nonviolent offenders, and a shrinking of the zone around schools within which drug offenders receive a mandatory minimum sentence of two to three years.

    “I’m also convinced we could get agreement on those four areas,’’ he said. “It’s the other areas that are going to slow down the process.’’

    Linsky also argued that a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, embraced by the Senate, was “a recipe for recidivism’’ and a “nonintelligent way to run a system’’ because it would do little to prepare offenders to reenter society.

    He argued that extending earlier parole to those hit with mandatory minimum sentences, ensuring that they receive access to supports and programs, would be “much smarter.’’


    Creem said she agreed but would need to see whether they could reach consensus within their individual branches.