Jessica’s Law was introduced in this legislative session as House Bill 1688 with Representative Karyn Polito, Republican of Shrewsbury, as the lead sponsor. At the hearing before the joint Committee on the Judiciary in November, former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey made her first public appearance, since loosing the election for Governor, to speak in favor of the bill. This bill would have created state wide residency restrictions for many former sex offenders and new mandatory minimum sentences for many sex offenses. CJPC submitted written testimony opposing the residency restrictions and mandatory minimum sentences, because they are not an effective way of preventing sex offending, and are counterproductive to the goal of reintroducing former offenders into society as law abiding citizens. The Judiciary Committee took no action on H.B. 1688 until May 29, when it extended the deadline for reporting on it to June 12, 2008.
On March 31, a producer for the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News caught the House Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Eugene O’Flaherty, Democrat of Chelsea, outside of his home on video tape and asked: “What's holding up Jessica's Law? Are you going to get this passed?”
O’Flaherty responded: “The practical effect of Jessica's Law is a chest-thumping, sound-tough-on-crime piece of legislation when, in fact, what ends up happening is prosecutors have their hands tied when it comes to plea bargains and other arrangements.”
The video of Representative O’Flaherty was followed by Bill O’Reilly interviewing Representative Polito and Sheriff Hodgson of Bristol County. Polito and Hodgson blamed O’Flaherty for not reporting H.B. 1688 out of Committee for a vote by the full legislature. In the segment O’Reilly takes credit for pushing 42 states to adopt some form of Jessica’s Law.
On May 21 House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Attorney General Martha Coakley proposed a modified version of Jessica’s Law which was cosponsored by all of the state’s district attorneys, House Bill 4811. The Modified Jessica’s law is an improvement in that there are no residency restrictions. But it still contains severe mandatory minimum sentences which have never been effective at preventing any kind of crime and which are a major contributing factor to prison overcrowding and the ever increasing rate of incarceration.
According to the Lowell Sun, the Modified Jessica’s Law does not satisfy earlier proponents of Jessica’s Law like Laurie Myers, of Chelmsford, the founder of the advocacy group Community Voices, who said: "As far as I'm concerned, it's a total distraction from the real problem. This fails to do anything to protect kids. I think it's a shame."
On June 2nd House Bill 4811 was officially filed. Two days later it was put to a vote on the floor of the house. With two amendments it passed the House on vote of 145 to 3. Voting against the bill were Representative Byron Rushing (D. Boston), James Fagin (D. Taunton) and Benjamin Swan (D. Springfield). It was passed by the Senate on July 15, on a vote of 35 to 1 with only Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D. Newton) voting against it. Governor Patrick signed the bill on July 24, 2008.
For a more detailed analysis of the Modified Jessica’s Law please go to the CJPC web site. Also at CJPC.org is a detailed section by section comparison of the Modified Jessica’s Law and the statutes which it is amending or adding to.
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