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Brownsberger Named Chair of Joint Judiciary Committee, Focus on Sentencing Reform

Will bring his well-known pragmatic approach to the committee.

Sure, Will Brownsberger, Belmont resident and state senator, made it known that he would like to succeed his friend Kathleen Clark – who is now US Rep. for the 5th Congressional District – as the Senate Chair of the important and influential joint Judiciary Committee.

But Brownsberger – whose district includes his hometown, Watertown and several neighborhoods in Boston – hadn't heard any word from State Senate President Therese Murray about his chances before the Democrat caucus met last week.

"I had indicated my interest, but I wasn't sure who her choice would be," Brownsberger told Belmont Patch. 

So Brownsberger was taken a bit off guard when Murray announced on Jan. 2 that he was her choice for the post.

" … Brownsberger is a deliberative and thoughtful leader in the Senate and has a strong work ethic," Murray said. "I am confident that he will continue to do great work in this new position as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary."

"I was surprised and delighted when the Senate President announced her decision to the caucus," said Brownsberger. 

As the joint chair – his House counterpart, Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty of Chelsea, gave up his long-term seat Monday, Jan. 6, to join Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's team – Brownsberger said the committee has a broad charter and "[t]here is a lot to do and I need to get a better feel for which issues have institutional momentum in this session," he said. 

While he will take the lay of the land, Brownsberger did indicate there are several issues that are important to him that he will advocate on the committee including sentencing reform.

The issues profile has increased markedly over the past year in states around the country and now in Washington where this week conservatives and liberals have come together to challenge mandatory minimum sentences, specifically for nonviolent drug offenders.  Many reformers hope to give judges greater room to mete out varying prison sentences in many drug cases.

"[There are] too many people locked up for too long," said Brownsberger, who in September came in fifth is a six person race to replace Ed Markey as US Representative. 

Brownsberger will also focus on statute of limitations reform – "We need to make it easier for victims of childhood sexual abuse to recover," he said – and strengthening animal cruelty protections for farm animals.

Known as a pragmatic progressive, Brownsberger is seen as a legislator who seeks workable and effective solutions rather than following political orthodoxy; the best example was his leadership in reforming the public employee benefit system that won praises from good government groups and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Will he bring that same compromise approach to the Judiciary Committee to solving thorny issues such as immigration or limits on Second Amendment rights? 

"The Committee does wrestle with some of our deepest choices. I look forward to applying all of my learning and experience to the challenge of leading it," he said.

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