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

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

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  • Watch: Baker on swearing in new State Police top cop
  • ‘Privilege’ comment rankles gun-rights advocates

On Beacon Hill: Eleventh month, eleventh hour

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

BOSTON — You know the old saying: “There’s no time like the last possible second!”

That’s the time-honored credo of the Massachusetts Legislature, and it was in complete effect as the last full week of formal legislative sessions arrived — for 2017, that is.

Why it should be necessary to wait 10 months to pass statutes for which everyone acknowledged a need in January can only be explained by the legislators themselves, and let’s face it, the explanations are never really that good.

“Many stakeholders” and “input from the members” and “listening sessions” are the canards of choice under the Dome — the legislative equivalent of “giving 110 percent.”

Whatever the ultimate reason (human nature, justification for a full-time Legislature, and a lack of absolute deadlines are suspected), the House and Senate again headed into the final few days of formals for the year having put off for November what they could have accomplished in February, May or September.

The House will take up criminal justice reform this week, several years after reform was generally recognized as desirable, while the Senate last week tackled health care cost containment measures the governor said were badly needed — months ago.

But from the sounds of it, Baker and the state’s insurers are singing better never than late on the cost front, with the governor and insurance executives suggesting senators badly missed their cost control goal while checking off some other boxes on their health care policy preference lists.

Senate Democrats pushed through their massive bill at midnight Thursday on a 33-6 party-line vote. Senators dismissed Baker’s cost critique [see more below], citing his past ties to industry, and asserted they are merely trying to repair the many “broken” aspects of the health care system while also making it less costly.

All of this spoke to an issue driving once and future political campaigns: health care. And for that matter, present campaigns as well. In Tuesday’s elections, voters in Maine took the singular step of telling their governor to expand Medicaid coverage and take full advantage of Obamacare.

That stinging rebuke to the Trump approach was part of a first Tuesday in November widely seen as a repudiation of the president’s style and rhetoric, though there was nothing stylistic about the Maine Medicaid vote — it was a flat repudiation of the conservative approach to government-run health coverage.

While pundits nationwide watched Virginia and Maine and the Virginia House of Delegates race (won by transgender candidate Danica Roem) as electoral pulse-takers, Election Day in Massachusetts was much more of a confirmation that the electorate’s vital signs were normal. That is to say, a Trump-loathing mayor was overwhelmingly endorsed for a second term in Boston, and Democrats swept the races where it was D vs. R.

— Craig Sandler

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Crime and punishment … and contraception
  • Warren and Franken on tax bill, McGovern rebukes Ryan
  • Glavin plans run for seventh term as secretary of state
  • Baker on altered State Police report detailing arrest of judge’s daughter
  • State police chief resigns in wake of arrest report protocol review
  • Spilka expects health cost savings in Senate bill

On Beacon Hill: Bumping heads

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

BOSTON — Trace amounts of bad blood were left spattered on the pages of a budget bill passed by the Legislature last week, and it wasn’t just the cornstarch remnants of a Halloween costume gone awry.

House and Senate Ways and Means Chairs Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, and Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, managed to put aside their differences after weeks of stalemate and come to an agreement over legislation allocating the $129 million needed to shut the book on fiscal 2017, which ended four months ago.

The bill signed by acting Gov. Karyn Polito Friday made Massachusetts the first state in the country to ban bump stocks — devices used to accelerate a gun’s firing rate — since the Las Vegas mass shooting a month ago. And it included $3 million for a youth violence prevention program that Sanchez had made a priority even before a 16-year-old was gunned down in his Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

The path to yes, however, was fraught with private backbiting and public statements of frustration that caused the comptroller’s office to miss its annual statutory Halloween deadline to file critical financial reports.

The Democratic infighting contributed to Massachusetts not filing year-end financial documents on time for the second time in three fiscal years.

Sanchez’s statement after the agreement was reached seemed to try to clear the air, thanking Spilka for being a partner in the legislation. But the idea that this was nothing personal, just business, was a hard one to swallow after weeks of bickering through the media.

Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, did little to alter the narrative of tension between the branches when he took an unsolicited swipe at the House hours before they were set to debate a bill that would commit Massachusetts to the goals of the Paris Climate accord.

Barrett equated the bill to “running in place,” and said more was necessary if the state was to be a leader in combating climate change. Rep. Dylan Fernandes, the freshman Falmouth Democrat and sponsor of the Paris bill, didn’t disagree with Barrett, but said he never pretended that his bill was anything more than what it was: a statement of principle to the “climate deniers” in Washington.

Gov. Charlie Baker held vigil for the budget through Tuesday, and then hopped a jet to Palm Springs, California, for the rest of the week for a little down time with his wife before the sprint to the playground. Perhaps they were able to discuss his re-election plans.

An extended holiday recess for legislators looms after Nov. 15.

— Matt Murphy

Courtesy Sen. Moore's office

Sen. Michael O. Moore

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

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  • Murray, first female Senate president, honored with official portrait
  • Amid sexual harassment furor, Bump suggests legislative code of conduct

On Beacon Hill: The Justice League

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

BOSTON — Justice comes to those who wait … and wait … and wait.

The idea of criminal justice reform has been held out for years by Beacon Hill legislators as a worthy and necessary goal. But putting the pieces together has been a difficult puzzle to assemble.

The Senate pressed the last piece of one of the four jigsaw corners in the wee morning hours Friday, after more than 14 hours of debate that tested the constitutions of Democrats and Republicans who might have preferred not to hold those conversations.

They debated whether mandatory minimums for cocaine trafficking should be repealed, whether young teenagers having sex with each other should be a criminal offense, and whether parents and children should be able to testify against one another.

Some of the 162 amendments were decided by one or two votes, with Democrats crossing party lines and causing mid-session huddles among like-minded colleagues unaccustomed to the process of whipping votes and wondering whether they could safely predict the outcome.

State Sens. Michael Brady, D-Brockton; Michael Rush, D-Boston; Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport; and Patrick O’Connor, R-Weymouth, took a pass on the statutory rape reform altogether, voting “present” rather than weighing in on whether Massachusetts should have a “Romeo and Juliet” exception for minors close in age.

In broad strokes, the bill that cleared the Senate, 27-10, was designed to try to lower recidivism rates and the number of inmates incarcerated in state prisons. It eliminates parole fees, raises the youngest age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 to 12 years old, and allows for reduced sentences for certain drug crimes.

It’s now the House’s turn — and anyone’s guess how the more conservative body will respond. But Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, is keeping the faith: “That’s all I’m hearing from the House is seriousness on this issue,” he said.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, had a different justice matter on his plate Friday, the day after the Senate debate, as he gathered his leadership team to discuss a column in the Boston Globe written by Yvonne Abraham alleging a widespread culture of sexual harassment under the Golden Dome.

An “infuriated and deeply disturbed” speaker took to the House floor to condemn acts described anonymously by Abraham, which ranged from unwanted sexual advances by lawmakers toward lobbyists and aides, to groups of House members viewing pornography on the House floor.

Without allegations containing names attached to investigate, DeLeo called on his House counsel, Jim Kennedy, to initiate a review of the House’s sexual harassment policies, but just as the Harvey Weinstein accusations snowballed into other industries and boardrooms, this may not be the last shoe to drop on Beacon Hill.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

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  • Watch: Baker on CSRs, Flake and Trump
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