(Editor's note: Editor Bill Gilman contributed to this article.)
A bill that toughens sentences for violent repeat-offenders passed the Senate Thursday after having been overwhelmingly in the House Wednesday evening.
The so-called "three-strikes" law eliminates parole for someone convicted three times of one of 40 or so violent crimes, with at least one conviction having carried a minimum three-year prison term. It passed the House with a vote of 139-14. In the Senate, it passed 31-7.
State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, and state Reps. Jim Miceli, D-Wilmington and Paul Adams, R-Andover, all voted in favor of the bill, with Adams saying it was overdue.
"This bill is just common sense," said Adams, who is running for Finegold's seat in the State Senate in the fall. "The public needs to be protected from violent offenders. I fully support the provisions of this bill."
Miceli and Finegold could not be reached for comment.
Tewksbury Selectman Doug Sears, who is challenging Miceli for a seat in the Legislature this fall, said he was also strongly in favor of the bill.
"This bill is long overdue as a deterrent for those who would commit violent felonies," said Sears.
Andover Selectman Alex Vispoli, who is running against Adams in the GOP Senate Primary in September, echoed his adversary's sentiments, adding that he is concerned that Gov. Deval Patrick could find a way to kill the legislation.
"It is about time. This bill has lingered forever in conference committee. It is hard to believe that it has taken months to get the differences between the House and Senate versions negotiated. Due to the inaction of the legislature the bill is still in jeopardy," said Vispoli. "The Governor can veto it and due to the end of the legislative session there will not be time to override his veto or amended language. the problems surrounding the passage of this bill shows why we need new leadership at the State House."
State Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, represents a district that will include Tewksbury, as of Jan. 1.
"This legislation has been a long time in the making. The ultimate responsibility of the legislature is to protect our citizens," said Lyons. "The fact that violent criminals have been allowed back on our streets to commit further violent crimes is outrageous. It is my hope that this legislation will keep these violent criminals behind bars."
Lyons' Democratic challenger, former state Rep. Barbara L'Italien, could not be reached for comment.
The movement to pass the law was fueled, in part, by outrage over two crimes. In one, . In the other crime more associated with the law, sometimes dubbed "Melissa's Law," 27-year-old Jamaica Plain schoolteacher Melissa Gosule was murdered in 1999 after being raped and murdered by a felon who had 27 previous convictions. Gosule grew up in Randolph.
While cracking down on violent criminals, the bill passed Thursday eases mandatory sentencing on nonviolent drug offenses, in part to take the strain off overcrowded prisons. It also reduces the size of school zones, inside which drug activity carries a larger penalty, since most urban areas fall largely within these zones.
The bill heads to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk, where he has until July 31 to act on it.