On Beacon Hill: Sins of the husband [+video]

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — The national sexual harassment scandal got a face in Massachusetts last week – the visage of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s husband.

All other dealings on Beacon Hill were blocked out like an eclipse by the bombshell report in The Boston Globe that Rosenberg’s husband of one year, Bryon Hefner, had allegedly sexually assaulted at least four men.

Three of the men, who all work in the political arena and shared their stories anonymously, claim that Hefner grabbed their genitals in social settings, sometimes with the Senate president mere feet away. Another alleged that Hefner forcibly kissed him as he bragged about the clout he wielded over a legislative body for which he didn’t work and never served.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has worked closely with Rosenberg for years, was the first to call for a full investigation hours after the story broke, but he was followed by others, including Rosenberg himself, who gave his blessing for Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to spearhead a full probe that Rosenberg, who intends to retain his title for now, will recuse himself from.

An Amherst-based Democrat, Rosenberg seemed to be clinging to the edge of a cliff Friday as staff, Chandler and Tarr huddled in the office next to the president’s hashing out a plan to bring on a special investigator to look into the allegations against Hefner, including impacts on Senate operations.

Watch: Rosenberg addresses Hefner accusations

Visibly shaken by the allegations against his husband, Rosenberg faced the cameras roughly 24 hours after Hefner’s alleged transgression were put on public display in what Rosenberg called the “most difficult time” in his political and personal life.

Rosenberg announced in a prepared statement that Hefner would be seeking in-patient treatment for alcohol dependence, and he encouraged anyone with a story to tell to come forward without fear of retribution. The Globe reported the four men were still not ready to take that step, but the door has been opened.

Rosenberg also said he was confident the investigation would show that Hefner had no influence over Senate business. “If Bryon claimed to have influence over my decisions or over the Senate, he should not have said that. It is simply not true,” Rosenberg said.

The only two men to call outright for Rosenberg to resign or step aside as Senate president were Republican candidates for office. U.S. Senate candidate John Kingston and state Senate candidate Dean Tran spoke out on Thursday, while the Democrats running for governor remained silent.

MassGOP followed up Friday with blast emails to local media posing a series of questions that it said Democratic senators should answer, the first being, “Do you still have confidence in him and his leadership of the chamber?” The party also suggested that Rosenberg’s claims of being unaware of his husband’s alleged behavior were “dubious.”

“Democrat Senators have questions to answer about the Senate President’s leadership — given that they have the ability to determine his future. The MassGOP is committed to holding these Democrats accountable on behalf of voters, who deserve answers,” said MassGOP spokesman Terry MacCormack.

The State House may have been lousy with rumors of succession planning and senators angling to fill the void if and when Rosenberg were to step aside, but those senators were adamantly denying the water-cooler talk … for now. Succession talk is not a topic lawmakers usually like to go public with — loyalty playing the role that it does in politics — but there’s a time and a place for everything, and senators appeared to be struggling with that question.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • More on the Hefner harassment accusations
  • Markey on World AIDS Day, McGovern on Russia probe
  • Legislature OKs $2.7 million for pot panel operations
  • Watch: Tarr on Hefner, Rosenberg and what’s next
  • State DAs poised to reverse thousands of tainted convictions

Gov. Baker, Polito to seek second term in 2018, advisor says

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will run for re-election in 2018, according to a senior political advisor, marking an expected, but significant turning point as Baker’s political team begins to take steps to build the campaign apparatus that will be necessary to win another four years in office.

The formal announcement may not come as a surprise, but it does signify a milestone in the 2018 election cycle and officially makes the popular Republican and his lieutenant governor the first GOP ticket to seek a second term since Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci in 1994.

“The governor and lieutenant governor intend to seek re-election and will begin to build a campaign organization over the coming months. With the election still a year away, their focus remains on the bipartisan work they were elected to do,” advisor Jim Conroy told State House News Service.

WPI professors: Data science can help us fight human trafficking

Traffickers leave a data trail, however faint or broken, despite their efforts to operate off the grid and in the shadows. There is an opportunity – albeit a challenging one – to use the bits of information we can get on the distribution of victims, traffickers, buyers and exploiters, and disrupt the supply chain wherever and however we can.

Mariano: Thanksgiving turkeys for all

“Unfortunately, in our nation’s capital and right here in Worcester, we have a number of turkeys, both large and small, that did not qualify for a presidential pardon. In fact, we have a rafter of them.”

Up Next: City poised to set tax rates

While the city is flush with free cash and increasingly quick to trumpet its enviable financial situation, Worcester residents and businesses are likely to be digging in the couch cushions for a little “free cash” of their own once the City Council determines the dual tax rates at Tuesday’s meeting.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. used $250,000 from free cash to reduce the city’s tax levy to about $293.5 million, some $11 million more than last year but nearly $14 million below what the city could ask from its taxpayers.

Courtesy NAMI Mass

Edward M. Augustus Jr.

But still, with the spike in property values across the city, especially residential properties, even staying at last year’s rates of $19.22 per $1,000 of assessed value for residential and $32.93 for commercial, industrial and personal property, the average bills would rise $179 and $83, respectively.

[Scroll down to page 62 of the embedded PDF document below.]

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 218]: Choosing sides, with Charlie Baker

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., enjoy — well, maybe “enjoy” is a bit of an exaggeration in the era of Trump — a majority in the House and the Senate, the GOP, as per usual, finds itself surrounded on Beacon Hill.

Only 39 of the 200 lawmakers who sometimes actually clock in at the State House are Republicans.

The governor makes an even 40, but then, his party leaders often find it difficult to determine whose side he’s on. With a re-election bid looming, Hitch is seeing red.

On Beacon Hill: Birds of a feather?

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — An estimated 51 million Americans were projected to travel more than 50 miles to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

A fair number of those hit the Massachusetts highways newly confident, if they didn’t know before, that if they could escape the traffic for just a few miles those reduced speed limits posted in work zones along the route were merely “suggestions” and nothing that could legally stop them from getting to their turkey faster.

Gov. Charlie Baker made that point clear while standing in front a giant bank of monitors showing pockets of traffic starting to form Tuesday afternoon as he announced a package of highway safety initiatives he hopes legislative leaders will move to their front burner.

The ability to legally enforce reduced speed limits in work zones was one. But it wasn’t the talker.

Just this past February, Baker was on the radio when he said he thought texting while driving was the real danger on the roads. “I’m not sure I believe that the talking thing is,” he explained.

The governor, however, is no longer willing to take the risk that he could have been right, citing the volume of fatal car crashes that can be attributed to distracted driving and advances in technology and pricing that have made hands-free devices more accessible than ever. Those free hands, advocates hope, can stay gripped to steering wheels.

Baker called on the Legislature to deliver to his desk a bill before next summer that would make Massachusetts the sixteenth state to ban the handheld use of cellphones while driving. (Every other state in New England, except Maine, and New York have already done so.) And just like that, a driving safety bill climbed up the ladder of issues to watch for in 2018.

The governor’s new point of view changes some of the Beacon Hill politics over the long-filed bill, ratcheting up pressure on the House.

“I’m very pleased to see his comments,” Sen. Mark Montigny told the News Service. “But the only thing that should change the political dynamic is 15 years of death and destruction on the highways.”

Montigny, of New Bedford, still remembers vividly having to settle in 2010 for a ban on texting while driving. The Legislature wasn’t ready then to go all the way, and Montigny almost voted against his own bill because, as police would later complain, he believed the texting ban to be virtually unenforceable if people would still be allowed to handle their devices to phone a friend.

In the Senate, a hands-free bill already won approval in June, and because of Baker, Montigny has been imbued with new hope. “I’m glad the governor’s on board,” he said.

The pressure now shifts to the House as the lone holdout on a topic that from an experiential standpoint resonates with most voters/drivers. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he would be speaking with his Transportation Committee Chair Rep. William Straus in the “near future” about how to proceed.

In the meantime, Baker had bills sitting on his desk that merited his attention, and the signing spree started Monday with an elaborately staged ceremony to make the contraception “ACCESS” bill law.

“This is a great day in the commonwealth of Mass.,” the governor declared from a podium set up in the rarely used State House library, flanked by leaders of the House and Senate, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, the head of Planned Parenthood and more.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, right, looked on as Gov. Charlie Baker signed the ACCESS bill into law last week.

Don’t be surprised if this image makes it into campaign literature next year, the governor standing front and center as the state’s almost exclusively Democratic power brokers, plus the governor, delivered a message to President Trump’s Washington that birth control would remain free and covered in Massachusetts no matter what happens to Obamacare.

This is shaping up as a fascinating election year — Baker trying hard to stay in good graces of State House Democrats, his opponents trying just as hard to Velcro him to Washington Republicans.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Economy, State Police scandal keep Worcester in spotlight
  • Warren on GOP tax plan, Healey raps Trump on Haiti/TPS
  • AG finds Baker opioid bill lacking
  • Governor signs overhaul of English language learning

Mass. middle class to take ‘biggest hit’ from Republican tax plan, Baker says

BOSTON — The tax bill that passed the U.S. House last Thursday and is on a fast track in the U.S. Senate would benefit the wealthy at the expense of working people, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said.

“If you really want to do something for the middle class, this is not it, because the middle class – in Massachusetts anyway – will probably take the biggest hit,” the governor told co-hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan Monday during his monthly appearance on WGBH. “This is just a big shift, as you point out, Jim, to the haves, at the expense in many cases of working people and the have-nots. And I don’t support that.”

Baker, who is expected to run for re-election next year, said he would be up for a discussion about lowering the nation’s corporate tax rate – which tops out at 35 percent – but he agrees with the critique offered by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who is running for re-election next year, about the approach Republicans are taking toward taxes in Congress.

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 217]: The real elephant in the room for state GOP

Sure there are red states and blue states, even a couple purple states, but Massachusetts is a commonwealth with very particular political tastes.

We like to dish out our own special blend of legislative action, often with a powerfully Democratic State House making sure a Republican governor toes that thin blue line. Indeed, Baker is charged with cooking up an intricate menu of compromises at every turn, which leaves most of his party on the outside looking in.

Hitch, for one, is hungry for a full-grown GOP.

On Beacon Hill: Around the turn they come

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Horse racing in Massachusetts has been on the decline for many years now, but horse trading is alive and well on Beacon Hill.

The Legislature came down the homestretch last week with blinders on, looking to finish what it could before the holiday recess, while Gov. Charlie Baker had his eye on next year – which happens to be his re-election year – as he filed new legislation and took executive action to ramp up the fight against opioid addiction.

House and Senate lawmakers were too preoccupied with their own business to get too deep into the opioid debate, but it was never far from mind as criminal justice reform took center stage in the House.

House leaders set aside two days to debate the justice bill prepared by state Reps. Claire Cronin, D-Brockton, and Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, but Monday’s first day featured more idling than engine revving as trade-offs were being hashed out for hours behind the closed doors of the speaker’s office.

“It’s not a pretty process,” House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, mused outside the House chamber.

Pretty or not, the bill got done, and justice reform advocates were pleasantly surprised after months of hand-wringing and worrying that the House would try narrow the focus of the legislation and only tip-toe into the waters of the some of the more controversial topics.

The final bill does away with mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes, restricts the use of solitary confinement, allows for the expungement of juvenile records, and makes other reforms to bail and felony larceny statutes. Progressives may not have gotten everything they wanted, but felt listened to and believe there’s always a chance to make further gains as negotiations begin with the Senate.

Hardline crime-and-punishment types were also left wanting after a passionate debate over Gov. Baker’s proposal to make drug dealers whose products lead to death eligible for a sentence of life in prison.

Republicans and Democrats argued that a strong message needed to be sent to those peddling death on the streets, but Reps. David Linsky, D-Natick, and Chris Markey, D-Dartmouth, two former prosecutors speaking for the side that prevailed, said even their shared disgust with those enabling addiction couldn’t convince them that such a punishment would pass legal muster.

As the debate was going on in the House, Baker called a press conference to roll out the next phase of his administration’s fight against opioid abuse and addiction.

With proposed law changes and executive actions designed to improve access to treatment and educate young people on the dangers of opioids, Baker said Massachusetts is far from declaring “mission accomplished” despite a reduction in overdose deaths over the past six months.

Charlie Baker

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

The overdose-reversing drug Narcan has played a role in holding down the death toll and the governor, among other ideas, pitched making it available over the counter. He also brought back a revised version of his controversial proposal to involuntarily hold patients for 72 hours in emergency rooms if they show signs of addiction and being a danger to themselves.

The retooled proposal would instead allow medical clinicians to have patients involuntarily transferred to treatment centers, instead of kept in emergency rooms, for up to 72 hours if they are considered a threat to themselves or others. After 72 hours, medical personnel would be able to petition the courts to keep the patient longer.

“If you have this opportunity to engage somebody, you should take advantage of it,” Baker said.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • It’s the voters’ turn to take the initiative
  • McGovern on Trump’s new scandal, Baker on opioids
  • Candidate Warren calls for independent look into arrest report scandal
  • Watch: Baker on swearing in new State Police top cop
  • ‘Privilege’ comment rankles gun-rights advocates