Three strikes to improve public policy: the legislative process works

Governor Patrick’s decision to sign the crime bill, the passage of a health cost containment bill, and a renewable energy boost are three healthy signs that the legislative process works.  Never mind that they waited till the eleventh hour to get it done. They did what they were elected to do.

The crime bill prevents habitual violent offenders from getting parole upon conviction for a third violent offense.  This isn’t like the old “three strikes” approach started in California, which sent someone to prison for life after the third conviction.  The new Mass. law simply says that, if you’re convicted a third time of a violent crime, you’d have to serve the whole sentence, rather than getting out on parole two thirds of the way through.  Initially, the Governor vetoed the bill.  He wanted judges to be able to make the determination, but that would defeat the whole purpose of the bill.  (Just ask Les Gosule, whose daughter Melissa was raped and murdered by a repeat violent offender.)  Patrick’s veto overridden, the Governor said he’d sign the bill (which he deemed “a good bill, not a great bill”) because it also eliminated mandatory minimums for some non-violent drug offenses.

Eliminating judicial discretion in the case of habitual violent offenders isn’t even the end of the line.  A governor, if he really believes in letting the perpetrator out, has the right to commute the sentence.  Strengthening the law by eliminating parole on the third violent offense really is a no-brainer.

The health cost containment bill also shows the legislative process working.  House and Senate had taken different approaches to health cost containment, with the House more punitive toward hospitals and other providers.  In conference committee, legislators found the sensible middle and agreed to link increases in allowable hospital costs to the increased growth in the state’s economy. (Health costs have been growing at twice the inflation rate.) This, too, is a no-brainer, and once again shows Massachusetts leading the way in addressing the challenges of medical costs.  This time, Governor Patrick called the legislative product “not just a good bill but a great bill.”  Frankly, the enforcement powers need to be proven, but legislating is an iterative process. This bill is a good start but may need future tweaking.

Finally, the legislature furthered the cause of renewable energy by increasing the ability of individuals, businesses and municipalities to sell back to the grid any excess energy produced by solar or other renewable energy sources. 

People love to beat up on the legislature, and, more often than not, the legislature makes it easy to do so.  The end of this session seems rather productive, and we should stop and take note of it.

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