November 5, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Bumping heads

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Senate and House Ways and Means Chairs Sen. Karen Spilka and Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez shook hands Monday before starting their first negotiation meeting over the compromise closeout budget for fiscal 2017. The state comptroller's office wrote to Gov. Baker on Tuesday about the "troubling pattern" of closeout budgets being enacted late in recent years.

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

  • Health care, criminal justice and special elections
  • Warren and Sanders tag team on taxes; McGovern, in defense of Dreamers
  • Moore bill aimed at curbing campus sex assault passes Senate
  • Murray, first female Senate president, honored with official portrait
  • Amid sexual harassment furor, Bump suggests legislative code of conduct

LOOKING AHEAD

Health care, criminal justice and special elections

As the Senate debates health care policy and the House gears up for a criminal justice debate, voters in Haverhill and the Berkshires on Tuesday will choose the two newest members of the General Court, and two sitting members of the Legislature are also gunning for a one-way ticket out of Beacon Hill.

If Sen. Thomas McGee of Lynn and Rep. Paul Heroux of Attleboro are successful in their campaigns for mayor and give up their seats on Beacon Hill, their departures would trigger another pair of special elections this winter.

Leading up to Friday’s Veterans Day holiday, the Senate has scheduled two days of debate — Wednesday and Thursday — on a bill reengineering health care policy. The House has a formal session planned for Wednesday, with plans to vote on a bill mandating insurance coverage for contraception at no cost to policyholders.

A LITTLE BIRDIE …

Warren and Sanders tag team on taxes

McGovern, in defense of Dreamers

NOTED

Aimed at curbing campus sex assault, Moore bill passes Senate

Pointing to the ongoing national conversation about sexual harassment, state senators passed a bill Thursday aimed at ensuring college students have a place to turn on campus if they’ve been sexually assaulted, and at preventing such violence in the first place.

Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, co-chair of the Higher Education Committee and the bill’s sponsor, called it “unacceptable” that 23 percent of female undergraduates reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact in a 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities, but between 72 percent and 95 percent of those incidents went unreported.

Moore’s bill, which passed unanimously onto the House for consideration, requires students and staff to receive annual mandatory training on sexual violence awareness and prevention, and for colleges and universities to post online and distribute by email their policies on sexual assault.

Sen. Moore

The bill, Moore said, would “help lift a veil of secrecy and empower our children” in times of crisis.

Schools would be required to designate a “confidential resource advisor” who can provide students information on available counseling and medical services after an assault, as well as their options for reporting it. Speaking to the advisor would not trigger a formal investigation, but would allow a victim to better plan the path they wish to take, Sen. Eric Lesser said.

Moore said the bill would ensure fair procedures and appropriate services were in place for both reporting parties and the accused. Doing so is critical, he said, after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos created “uncertainty for our students” by rescinding Obama administration guidelines addressing sexual violence on campus.

Sen. Cynthia Creem said passing the bill at this moment carries added significance. Allegations of sexual assault and harassment against film executive Harvey Weinstein have again prompted national discussions about the issue.

Women across the country responded to the Weinstein news by sharing their own experiences with assault and harassment on social media, with the hashtag #MeToo. A column by the Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham, featuring interviews with a dozen anonymous women, detailed instances of sexual harassment on Beacon Hill and prompted a renewed focus on policies for prevention and reporting.

Debate on the bill wrapped up without a specific mention of sexual assault allegations at the State House.

— Katie Lannan

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Murray, first female Senate president, honored with official portrait

IN THE NEWS

Amid sexual harassment furor, Bump suggests legislative code of conduct

If there has been a marked decline in the amount of sexual harassment within the State House over the past three decades, State Auditor Suzanne Bump missed it.

“I’m not speaking from personal experience because, for whatever reason, I’ve never had to deal with anything other than the occasional crude comment or misplaced attempt at humor, but from the stories that circulate, it doesn’t sound to me that it’s gotten better,” Bump said last week.

A Democrat who worked as a legislative aide in the 1980s before winning a state rep race in 1984, Bump was first elected to statewide office in 2010. Saying state capitols in general are “unhealthy environments,” Bump suggested the House and Senate consider professional codes to police the behavior of lawmakers.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Auditor Suzanne Bump said there is “no forum” to handle sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers or lobbyists.

“They have to adopt their own code of conduct and decide what they’re going to do about violations by members,” Bump told State House News Service. “Right now there is no forum, no forum to effectively deal with complaints against members, or lobbyists for that matter.”

Last year, the auditor’s office posted footage of Bump testifying in 1985 in support of An Act Prohibiting Sexual Harassment, saying harassment was “not a new phenomenon” and is responsible for “untold grief and suffering.”

Misbehavior by men in the state’s political class rocketed onto Beacon Hill’s agenda via a Boston Globe column by Yvonne Abraham that without naming names cataloged lewd propositions by elected officials, including one still in office, and unwanted touching by the head of a nonprofit.

After the column’s publication, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg both emphasized that people who feel harassed should not be afraid to file complaints, and the House adopted an order to review its harassment policies. Gov. Charlie Baker sent out a memo last Monday urging Executive Branch employees to retake a sexual harassment training program and the governor listed resources available to those who have a complaint.

Asked about whether any effort would be undertaken to unearth more details about the accounts reported in the Globe, a spokesman for DeLeo encouraged people with knowledge of incidents reported in the media to contact House officials.

“The House of Representatives investigates every report of inappropriate conduct, including sexual harassment,” spokesman Seth Gitell said. “The Speaker encourages victims of sexual harassment and/or anyone who has knowledge of an act of sexual harassment, including anyone with any information related to the incidents recently reported in the media, to contact either the Office of Human Resources or the Office of Legal Counsel immediately so that an investigation can be commenced.”

The Senate has not received any pending complaints that resemble what was reported in the Globe, Rosenberg said in response to the same question.

“The Senate has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment. We always proactively investigate any complaints of harassment that are filed with our Human Resources Department according to our long-standing harassment policies outlined in our employee handbook,” Rosenberg said in a statement. “Currently, we have no pending complaints that would align with the allegations made in the Globe story about a potential member.”

— Andy Metzger

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