Only hours after the legislature granted final approval on criminal justice reforms, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Wednesday that she will sign the comprehensive package that creates a new law against home invasion.
Rell spoke late Wednesday morning after the state House of Representatives had voted 126-12 at about 2:40 a.m. for the bill that was prompted by the gruesome triple slayings last summer in Cheshire. The final passage came after a daylong marathon involving the Senate and the House in a one-day special session that legislators had been anticipating for months.
"It's a huge step, and it is also something that we will continue to work on and modify and enhance over the period of the regular session that begins in February," Rell told reporters. "I think that this sends a very clear message to the criminals."
The 43-page bill covered a series of topics, but it did not include some of the more controversial and expensive items, such as whether to build new prisons. Some Democrats have said that more prison space is necessary, but Rell and Republicans say that would be a highly expensive solution. The issue is likely to be debated when the regular session starts Feb. 6.
The House and Senate rejected amendments to enact a "three strikes-and-you're-out" proposal that would require a mandatory sentence of life in prison for criminals convicted of three violent felonies. But Rell and Sen. Sam Caligiuri, a Waterbury Republican, are vowing to revisit the issue.
"I will continue to work for it because I believe it is the right thing to do," Rell said of the three-strikes plan. "My guess is it'll be brought up as an amendment to another bill."
Rell added, "I felt very strongly that this is something that the public understands and the public wants. Even though it did not pass, I think we need to look at the picture as a whole and look at the bill that did come through, and I am very pleased that it passed."
Caligiuri, one of the most outspoken proponents of three strikes, is already prepared to debate the issue again.
"Our three-strikes amendment would have given prosecutors a valuable, additional tool in charging those who have been convicted of two serious, violent felonies and are now accused of committing a third," Caligiuri said. "I will introduce three-strikes legislation every year until we pass it, for as long as I am a state senator."
The bipartisan bill calls for an improved computer system so law enforcement agencies can communicate better, along with more money for a re-entry program for those leaving prison and better services for crime victims. In addition, the state will require a global positioning system [GPS] to monitor an additional 300 criminals out on parole. For the first time, criminals who enter an occupied home will face increased penalties under the newly classified crime of home invasion.
"A strong home-invasion law is the centerpiece — the linchpin — of the package," said Rich Harris, Rell's spokesman.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said, "The bill also includes funding — approximately $2 million in the current fiscal year and $17 million next fiscal year — so we can start enacting real reforms right now, not in July, at the start of the new fiscal year. "
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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