Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Senate Republicans Call for Oversight Hearings to Review the State's Drunk Driving Laws

Six years after Melanie’s Law was passed to get repeat drunk drivers off Massachusetts’ roads, the Senate Republican Caucus is calling for legislative oversight hearings to review the state’s OUI laws following recent media reports of repeat offenders being granted lenient sentences.

In a letter hand-delivered to the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Senate Minority Whip Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) asked that one or more oversight hearings be convened “to examine the adequacy of the state’s laws dealing with driving while under the influence of intoxicating substances.” While acknowledging the improvements that have been made since the 2005 passage of tougher state drunk driving laws, they noted that “we must not ignore the persistence of that threat as motorists evade punishment and continually disregard our established legal framework.”

“We believe that in light of the most recent litany of repeat drunk drivers taking to the wheel in flagrant disregard of the law and the public welfare, along with the astonishing level of leniency that trial judges are showing to those charged with driving while under the influence, that oversight hearings are necessary,” the Caucus wrote to Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) and Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea). “The objective of these hearings should not be to place blame or cast aspersions, but rather to further develop and strengthen a comprehensive legal framework that improves our approach in dealing with this difficult issue.”

In their letter, the Caucus cites several recent examples of some of the most blatant repeat offenders, including:

• Patrick Henry of Franklin, who was arraigned on November 28th on charges of driving while under the influence of alcohol, the 11th such time he was arrested for this offense;

• Albert Diaz of East Boston, who was arrested on November 23rd and charged with drunk driving for the 8th time, and whose license was revoked in 2004; and

• Howard Stockbridge of Taunton, who was arrested on November 7th for operating under the influence after five prior charges and for driving without a license, which had been suspended in 2008 for 10 years.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board singled out Massachusetts as one of ten states doing the least to combat repeat drunken driving offenses. Earlier this month, a Spotlight Team investigation by the Boston Globe found that more than 80 percent of drunk driving defendants in Massachusetts who go before a judge rather than a jury are acquitted of the charges.

“Our failure to keep repeat drunk drivers off the road is being exacerbated by the judiciary’s reluctance to convict those who are charged with the crime of driving while under the influence,” the Caucus noted. “We certainly believe strongly that every criminal defendant is entitled to their day in court and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. An acquittal rate of 80 per cent for bench trials of those accused with driving while under the influence, however, is cause for deep and persistent concern, especially in light of the conviction rate in other states. Unfortunately, this leniency puts Massachusetts in the unenviable position of earning recognition for such a lenient rate, and more seriously, puts the public at a greater risk of danger.”

Attached below is a copy of the Senate Republican Caucus’ letter to the Judiciary Committee co-chairs.

Senate GOP Caucus OUI Oversight Letter to Judiciary Committee

In Case You Missed It...

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert L. Hedlund was a guest on last night's edition of "Broadside" on New England Cable News, where he discussed Presidential politics and other current topics with host Jim Braude and former state Senator Warren Tolman. If you missed the original live broadcast, just click on the photo posted below to watch their discussion.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hedlund on NECN's 'Broadside' Tonight

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert L. Hedlund will be appearing on Broadside with host Jim Braude and former state Senator Warren Tolman tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss congressional redistricting and the Presidential election, including Congressman Barney Frank's decision not to run for re-election in 2012. Tune in to New England Cable News at 6 p.m. to follow the debate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Scaling Beacon Hill

As we gather with our families and friends on Thanksgiving, let us not forget the many Americans who are serving our country overseas and spending the holidays thousands of miles away from their loved ones. It is due to their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of those who served before them, that we as Americans continue to enjoy our many freedoms and live in a country that remains a beacon of hope to the rest of the world. Let us also take the time to reflect on the importance in our own lives of helping others and rededicate ourselves to doing so in the future. May you all have a very safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cold Fusion Inventor Comes to State House

Responding to an invitation from Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), the Italian scientist who claims to have developed the world’s first nuclear cold fusion reactor arrived at the State House this morning to explore the prospects of developing the device and producing it in Massachusetts.

Andrea Rossi, an engineer who has captured the attention of the scientific world with two successful tests of his “E-Cat” cold fusion reactor, met with government officials and representatives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Massachusetts and Northeastern University.

“Mr. Rossi’s reactor, if successfully proven and developed, has the potential to change the way the world deals with energy,” said Tarr, “and I’m pleased that he’s willing to discuss basing its production in Massachusetts.”

Rossi’s E-Cat reactor, which has thus far been developed and tested in the Italian city of Bologna, is intended to produce large amounts of energy from a reaction between nickel and hydrogen. The reaction produces heat which then heats water to produce steam, from which electricity can be generated. Importantly, the process creates little to no radiation, a major problem for the nuclear fission process currently used to produce power in reactors around the world.

“The enormous potential of this technology demands that it be addressed by the best scientific minds in the world,” said Tarr. “Since Massachusetts is the home of some of the best colleges and universities in the world, it makes sense for that process to happen here.”

Tarr expressed his appreciation to those joining him in meetings with Rossi from MIT, Northeastern and UMass, saying “our institutions of higher learning have been tremendous in their response to this opportunity, and I look forward to working with them.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tarr Amendment to Human Trafficking Bill Creates Electronic Child Enticement Crime

The tough anti-human trafficking bill signed into law today by Governor Deval Patrick contains a first-in-the-nation provision to penalize those who use the internet to entice minors, thanks to an amendment secured by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). Tarr and his Senate Republican colleagues -- Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) -- created through their amendment the new crime of “electronic enticement,” which addresses those who use the internet and other electronic devices to lure children into prostitution and other types of sexual servitude.

The new crime would:
• carry a maximum sentence of 5 years and/or a maximum fine of $2,500 for a first offense;
• carry a minimum sentence of 5 years, eliminate the options of parole, probation, work release, “good time” behavior or any other deduction from the sentence until at least 5 years has been served, and/or a maximum fine of $10,000 for a second and all subsequent convictions.

“Human trafficking has not only been happening in our state, it has been evolving to take advantage of modern technology. Now we’re taking action to combat those who would enslave others for profit, and the creation of this specific crime will strike directly at perpetrators who use electronic means to snare victims in a tangled web of servitude,” said Senator Tarr.

Tarr, an ardent supporter of the legislation signed into law today, was one of six legislators who served on the conference committee that authored the final version of the bill. Among its chief provisions are those that include:

• a penalty between 5 and 20 years in prison and/or a maximum fine of $25,000 for a first offense of human trafficking;
• a requirement that convicted human traffickers register with the sex offender registry;
• the creation of services for victims of trafficking;
• the establishment of an interagency human trafficking task force chaired by the attorney general to further develop and improve current law;
• a provision for child witnesses to testify out of court using video and audio equipment; and
• the creation of a human trafficking trust fund for victims.

Senator Tarr said, “Passing this bill into law will move our Commonwealth to the forefront of the fight against the horrors of human trafficking. Now we will have modern and effective tools to confront the people who profit from enslaving others.”

Tarr, who joined with legislative leaders with Governor Patrick today for the signing of the bill, expressed his gratitude to those who have played a role in bringing it to fruition. They include Manchester resident Christina Bain, Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge; Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford); Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth); Attorney General Martha Coakley; and Karen McLaughlin, Director of the Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force.
Joining Governor Deval Patrick at today's bill signing ceremony are (left to right): Representative Elizabeth Malia, Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Senator Mark Montigny, and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.
Senator Bruce Tarr speaks with Karen McLaughlin, Director of the Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force, at today's bill signing ceremony.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Case You Missed It...

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr called in to the Jeff Katz radio show this morning, where he offered a look at some of the major bills being taken up by the Legislature today, including Congressional redistricting, expanded gaming and Melissa's Law, which would make third time violent habitual offenders ineligible for parole. If you missed the interview, you can listen to the podcast on the station's website.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Senate Republicans offer alternative Congressional districts map

Today the Senate Republicans filed an alternative Congressional redistricting proposal to comply with the state’s need to reduce its number of Congressional seats from 10 to 9 beginning with the 2012 elections.

The plan was filed as an amendment to House Bill 3798, “An Act Establishing Congressional Districts,” which is expected to be debated later this evening during a formal Senate session. Click here to view images of the map and the actual text of the amendment.

The GOP amendment:

• limits the number of municipalities that would be split between two Congressional districts to only five, compared to the Joint Committee on Redistricting’s original plan to split 10 municipalities;

• assures that no individual precincts will be divided between two different Congressional districts, differing from the Redistricting Committee’s proposed plan to divide individual precincts within eight municipalities;

• creates a new Bristol County district that connects communities with common interests into a single district;

• supports a majority-minority district of voting age individuals based in Boston; and

• makes all other districts more compact and/or contiguous.

Senator Tarr on 'Jeff Katz' Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be talking with Jeff Katz of the Jeff Katz Show on Talk 1200AM Boston to provide an update from Beacon Hill. Possible topics include human trafficking, parole and sentencing reform, expanded gaming, congressional redistricting and pension reform. Please tune in or click here tomorrow morning at approximately 8:05 a.m. to listen to the interview live.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Les Gosule, Senator Tarr on Fox 25

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr appeared with Les Gosule, father of Melissa Gosule, and on-air personality VB on the Fox 25 Morning News last Friday, one day after the Senate unanimously approved the passage of a comprehensive bill that would deny parole to three-time violent habitual offenders. The bill – which also contains a Republican-sponsored provision requiring these same repeat offenders to serve their sentences consecutively, rather than concurrently – is now before the House of Representatives awaiting further action.

To watch the interview in its entirety, just click play on the video posted below.

Parole reform bill: One step closer to law:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

“Our liberties, our values, all for which America stands is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's front. And we thank God for them.” – Ronald Reagan, in his Veterans Day speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on November 11, 1988

Scaling Beacon Hill salutes our nation's veterans and their families for the many sacrifices they have made to help keep America free. Please take a moment today to remember the veterans in your community and to thank them for their service to our country.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tarr on the Fox 25 Morning News

Tomorrow morning Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be joining with Les Gosule, Melissa Gosule’s father, as guests on the Fox 25 morning news. They will be discussing with political commentator VB a comprehensive parole and sentencing reform bill, which passed today in the Senate by a 36-0 unanimous vote. Please tune in tomorrow morning at approximately 8:55am to watch their discussion.

Senate Passes Parole Reform Bill

The Massachusetts Senate today approved a comprehensive parole reform bill that includes a Republican-sponsored measure requiring third time violent habitual criminals to serve their sentences consecutively, rather than concurrently. The bill passed unanimously on a vote of 36-0.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Senate Minority Whip Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) hailed the bill as a major step forward in protecting public safety. The efforts to reform the state’s parole system originated with legislation that was filed in January by the Republican Caucus in partnership with many of their Democratic colleagues.

“Today marks an important victory in our efforts to secure justice for the families of those who have been victimized by violent crime and to ensure that violent habitual offenders serve their time so they cannot harm any other innocent victims,” said Senator Tarr. “There is still much work to be done, and we cannot be satisfied until the House and Governor Patrick follow the Senate’s lead and these changes are signed into law.”

“This has been a long time coming,” said Senator Hedlund. “The commitment and perseverance that advocates, legislators and law enforcement dedicated to this effort has been tremendous. Today in the Senate, we spoke in unison to pass this important legislation.”

“For the parents and families whose loved ones’ voices were silenced by violent repeat offending criminals, today’s passage of the Habitual Offender Bill can only bring a modicum of satisfaction,” noted Senator Ross. “I thank the families and my Senate colleagues for supporting this bill in hopes that future victimizations by repeat offenders can be avoided.”

“I am pleased with the outcome of this legislation,” added Senator Knapik. “We have seen too many times the tragic outcome of granting parole to those who do not deserve it. This bill keeps the most serious and chronic violent offenders off the streets, which ultimately keeps Massachusetts residents safe.”

In addition to securing language barring concurrent terms for violent habitual offenders, the Senate also approved Republican-sponsored amendments that would:

• require the members of the parole board to certify in writing that they have reviewed the criminal record of those inmates that come before the board seeking parole;

• mandate that the parole board provide written certification of its attempts to comply with requirements that it notify the attorney general, district attorney, police chief, victims and victims’ families before conducting a hearing to consider granting parole to anyone serving a life sentence;

• give the governor the authority to remove members of the parole board for cause after giving notice and holding a public hearing; and

• require that if the parole board does not post portions of public records and summary statements of their hearings on the Internet, the board must state the reason(s) why it cannot do so.

The bill now heads to the House for further action.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Senate Republicans push for parole reforms

Today the Senate Republican Caucus issued the following press release:

Senate Republicans push for parole reforms
Amendments seek to promote public safety and increased transparency

BOSTON – With the Senate poised to take up a comprehensive parole reform bill on Thursday, the Senate Republican Caucus is hailing the bill as a major step forward in protecting public safety.

“We have been fighting for extensive parole reforms since the session began in January, and we are now very close to achieving that goal,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “This is a very good bill, but at the same time, we feel we can make it stronger by taking steps to ensure that some of the proposed changes do not undermine the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

Senator Tarr, along with Senators Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) has filed a series of amendments designed to crack down on violent habitual offenders and make it tougher for individuals serving a life sentence to qualify for parole.

The Caucus is attempting to block efforts to reduce minimum mandatory sentencing terms for drug offenders and a proposal that would make it easier for criminals to shave time off their sentences by participating in “good time” credit programs of questionable value. The Caucus is also calling for changes that would empower the governor to remove parole board members for cause and require law enforcement officials, victims and the families of victims to receive advance notice of parole hearings so they can testify before the parole board.

The Senate Republicans’ amendments would:

• Strike language contained in the proposed bill that would reduce the minimum mandatory sentence for several drug offenses;

• Increase the minimum time served for individuals serving a life sentence before being eligible for parole from 15 to 20 years;

• Require sentences imposed on third time habitual offenders to run consecutively, not concurrently;

• Remove proposed increases in the “good time” sentencing reductions for prisoners;

• Require prison superintendents to get approval from the commissioner of corrections before approving of the worthiness of the good credit program;

• Maintain drug-free school zones at 1,000 feet, rather than the proposed reduction to 500 feet;

• Set term limits for parole board members at two consecutive terms, or 10 years;

• Require that at least two members of the parole board have law enforcement experience;

• Mandate that a victim or victim’s advocate serve on the parole board;

• Require the parole board to read criminal records aloud at parole hearings and to document having done so in the record;

• Require that if the parole board does not post portions of public records and summary statements on the Internet, it must state the reason(s) why it cannot do so;

• Mandate that the parole board provide written certification of its attempts to notify law enforcement, victims and victims’ families prior to holding a hearing;

• Require parole board Internet postings to include a summary of the proceedings;

• Require the governor to use the recommendation panel when filling a vacancy on the parole board, and also give the governor the authority to remove a parole board member for cause after notice and a public hearing;

• Establish a special commission to study the potential effects of adopting the federal model for authorizing sentencing reductions in place of the current state parole system; and

• Increase the size of the parole board nominating panel from five to seven to fill vacancies on the board, while mandating that the two new positions be filled by a local law enforcement official and a member chosen by the state’s District Attorneys Association.

Posted below is a list of crimes for which three convictions would eliminate the possibility of parole.

List of Offenses

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Senate Minority Leader On the Air with Dan Rea

Tonight at 10:00 on WBZ Radio (AM1030) Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be discussing with Senator Steven Baddour and host Dan Rea parole sentencing reform now pending before the Senate. That legislation, based on a bill we filed several months ago and another bill, known as “Melissa’s Law”, targets those serving multiple life sentences and repeat violent offenders, and is scheduled for debate on Thursday.

Please click here or tune in to WBZ-Radio 1030 AM at 10:00pm to listen to tonight’s broadcast
S.2054 Summary

Senator Knapik Requests Utility Oversight Hearings in Wake of Latest New England Storm

Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) announced today that he has sent a letter to Senator Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, requesting one or more oversight hearing be held regarding the problems and failures of National Grid and Western Mass Electric Company following last week’s unprecedented snow storm. Senator Knapik was joined by Senator Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham) and Senator James Welch (D-West Springfield) in submitting the request.

“I have requested the committee hold hearings in the areas most affected by the storm so residents and local officials have a forum to voice their frustrations and offer personal accounts of the utilities responses,” Senator Knapik said. “I am hopeful the result will be a better understanding of what went wrong and how we can ensure it does not happen in the future.”

On Saturday, October 29th, 2011, much of New England was hit by a powerful storm bringing heavy snow and strong winds. Given the timing of the storm, countless trees with their leaves still intact were toppled by the weight of the snow. As a result, power outages overwhelmed hundreds of thousands of households and businesses throughout Massachusetts.

The aftermath of the storm has exposed profound problems in the utility companies' abilities to organize and effectively respond to damages as well as communicate with customers and municipalities. Local officials and residents have cited a lack of personnel in their communities and a lack of information in the wake of the storm, despite many early warnings.

The utilities released inaccurate estimates in regards to power restoration, providing further frustrations for ratepayers. This major response problem left municipalities unable to work with the utilities and formulate efficient response plans. As a result, trees remained down, blocking major roadways days after the storm, and live wires lingered in residents’ yards presenting hazards throughout much of last week. Even today, over a week after the storm, many remain without power with no definite end in sight.

“The utilities must do a better job providing accurate information to municipalities and customers to ensure everyone is on the same page” Senator Knapik said. “We live in an area prone to unpredictable weather. It is crucial that these utilities are prepared for every event and are able to respond as quickly as possible.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has called for the Department of Public Utilities to conduct an investigation into the utilities handling of the storm. DPU has already begun a series of public hearings about the utilities' response to Hurricane Irene, which cause thousands of prolonged power outages in August, and has acknowledge it will open an investigation and schedule more hearings about the utilities' response to this storm.

Be sure to check out Senator Knapik's interview with WWLP-TV Channel 22 in Springfield by playing the video link posted below.

Lawmakers want utilities investigated:

Senators Tarr, Baddour Issue Joint Statement on Release of Senate Parole Reform Bill

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Senate Ways and Means Assistant Vice Chairman Steven A. Baddour (D-Methuen) issued the following statement on the release of the Senate’s parole reform bill:

“Ten months after we first introduced legislation calling for comprehensive parole reform, we are pleased to see that the Senate is now ready to act on this important issue. It has been a time-consuming and deliberative process to get us to this point, but now that we have a bill before us, we must ensure that those individuals who receive multiple life sentences or commit three violent offenses are not eligible for parole. The residents of Massachusetts – and especially the families of those who have been victimized by habitual offenders – deserve a parole system that is accountable and emphasizes public safety, and that is what we plan to deliver to them.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Senator Tarr's Comments on Redistricting

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr issued the following statement regarding the release today of maps outlining the state's newly redrawn Congressional districts:

"The unveiling of the Massachusetts Congressional redistricting maps signals that the committee and the legislature are now focused on perhaps the most important element of this year’s effort.

Given the importance of the necessary changes in our congressional districts, transparency and inclusiveness are absolutely critical to the process of approving these maps. What began with extensive public hearings, which centered largely around changes in Congressional districts, must continue now that the time to make decisions is approaching.

Unfortunately the committee did not meet to discuss the maps that were put forth today prior to their release, and that limited the role of the committee members in producing them.

Now, however, as we continue to digest the numbers and the details of the maps presented today, it is imperative that legislators and the public have sufficient time to understand what is being proposed and offer comment before any more decisions are made. Should doing so mean returning to formal session for a day past the scheduled date for the end of those sessions, then we should do exactly that."

Please click here to view an image of the proposed congressional map and to read more about the redistricting process.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Senator Tarr on NECN's 'Broadside'

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr made a guest appearance on NECN’s “Broadside” Thursday night, where he discussed the status of the expanded gaming legislation with Representative William Straus and host Jim Braude.

Please play the posted video below to watch yesterday’s appearance.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Senator Tarr on NECN's 'Broadside' Tonight

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be joining State Representative Bill Straus of Mattapoisett and host Jim Braude as a guest on tonight’s episode of “Broadside” on New England Cable News. Tonight’s segment will focus on the status of the expanded gaming legislation as it makes its way through the conference committee process and on to the Governor’s desk. Be sure to tune in tonight at 6 p.m. for the live broadcast, or watch the show when it re-airs at 8 p.m.

ON THE AIR: Senator Tarr on Fox 25

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr filled in as a guest political analyst on the Fox 25 Morning News segment “Tolman and Gray” earlier today. Tarr joined Boston City Councilor Michael Ross and co-anchor Kim Carrigan to discuss the GOP presidential primary race, the Hard Rock CafĂ© International Group’s interest in operating a casino in western Massachusetts, and the Occupy Boston movement. To view the segment in its entirety, just play the video link attached below.

Tolman and Gray:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Districts Approved

Yesterday, the House and the Senate voted to approve new districts for each of the legislative bodies and the Executive Council. The new maps, which were approved, are based on the information produced by the most recent (2010) federal census and the work of the Special Committee on Redistricting. You can view the maps depicting these new districts by clicking here.

Still pending in the legislative process are the state’s Congressional districts, which must be redesigned to reflect the results of the 2010 Federal Census. These districts are likely losing one seat in Congress, and all of the remaining 9 districts must be reconfigured as to accommodate the redistribution of the total population.