Senators Push Travaglini on Child Sex Crime Prosecution Legislation

By Jim O'Sullivan
MetroWest Daily News
August 9, 2006

Boston -- Two state senators are formally pressuring Senate President Robert Travaglini to convene a formal session and finalize legislation extending the criminal statute of limitations in cases involving alleged sexual abuse of children.

In a letter circulated to their colleagues yesterday, Sens. James Timilty, D-Walpole, and Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, asked Travaglini "to reconvene the Senate in formal session to enact this important legislation forthwith."

The House and Senate generally agree on a bill (H 5234) extending from 15 to 27 years the reporting period for victims of underage sexual abuse, falling short of the cap removal sought by activists and the state attorney general, but appeasing some who say abuse victims need more time to bring cases forward.

Under the bills, more sex offenders would have to wear global positioning system monitoring devices, steps would be taken to ensure sex offenders are registered with the state prior to their release from prison, and sex offenders who intentionally fail to register would face new penalties.

The Senate rarely sees bottom-up public pressure like the kind that Timilty and Brown, each in his first term, are applying, and the letter set off speculation and discussion among Senate aides and issue-watchers yesterday morning.

"This was the quickest and easiest way for me to let (Travaglini) know my feelings on the subject," said Timilty, "This isn't about me as a freshman senator and the leadership, this is about something that's important for the commonwealth."

The House approved the bill July 26 and the Senate approved its version July 27. The bill's sudden momentum, which followed months in committee, ceased when the branches couldn't agree on details and formal sessions expired July 31.

Legislators also did not finish work on pandemic flu planning, welfare reform, a capital bond bill, and several other matters that leaders had identified as priorities, by the end of formal sessions last week.

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi has said he's reluctant to return in formal sessions, concerned about violating a scheduling reform designed in part to keep the Legislature out of formal sessions while they are campaigning for office and following the November election.

No lawmakers have come out strongly against returning, and a few have openly said they hope they do.

Rep. James Marzilli, D-Arlington, said he hadn't heard of any of his colleagues rounding up signatures in a quest to return to Beacon Hill. But Marzilli said that on the final night of formal sessions, there was talk among lawmakers of returning later in the year to tend to unfinished business.

"I think the general expression is that if the Legislature is going to return in the fall, then it would probably do so in or around the same day as the Constitutional Convention," said Marzilli, in reference to the Nov. 9 resumption of the ongoing Constitutional Convention, which is weighing gay marriage and other issues.

Marzilli said he would like to see the child sexual abuse bill get to the governor's desk soon and agrees that near-term enactment of a multiyear bond bill is critical -- Gov. Mitt Romney has warned that public works and information technology projects will come to a halt soon without new funding. "We clearly have some obligations that are hanging by a thread," Marzilli said.

House Republican Leader Bradley Jones of North Reading said the branches should finish work on the bond authorization and he complained that it surfaced late in the session even though its legislative journey began when Romney filed it in spring 2005.

But Jones said he doesn't believe any special session agenda should grow beyond the bond. "We knew what the deadline was all along. Every item we take up after that deadline should count against giving a positive grade to the Democratic leadership."

Romney said yesterday he'd spoken with DiMasi about returning, noting the difference of opinion, and adding that state capital asset and finance officials were reviewing the list of projects to determine which required timely bond bill action.

Asked if he'd tried to contact Travaglini about the matter, Romney replied, "We've had conversations. I don't want to describe my personal conversations with the Senate president and the speaker. I've indicated clearly to both that this is a real issue we've got to deal with."

Supporters of the sex abuse legislation say the bill, which faced some opposition in the House, could be wrapped up during informal sessions, but Timilty indicated he'd prefer a special formal session.

"I think that bringing us back in a formal session would ensure that no legislative maneuver would stop this thing from passage," he said in a telephone interview.

A Travaglini spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.


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