By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Beacon Hill Roll Call records local senators’ votes on roll calls from the week of April 30-May 4. There were no roll calls in the House last week.
FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT STAN ROSENBERG RESIGNS – Former Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst resigned from the Senate last week following the release of a report by the Ethics Committee that found Rosenberg violated the Senate’s IT policy by sharing his confidential computer password which gave his husband Byron Hefner, unfettered access to Rosenberg’s Senate e-mail account. The report also found that Hefner had abused that access and sent messages under Rosenberg’s name.
Hogan Lovells is the law firm hired by the Ethics Committee to conduct the probe and issue a report to the committee.
The report also revealed that Rosenberg knew or should have known that Hefner racially and sexually harassed Senate employees and failed to address the issue adequately.
Investigators found that Rosenberg did not violate any Senate rules but demonstrated a “significant failure of judgment and leadership” which led to “failures that undermined the integrity of the Senate and had destructive consequences for the body and the people with business before it.”
On March 29, a grand jury indicted Hefner on felony charges connected with five sexual assaults and criminal lewdness.
Calls for Rosenberg’s resignation were quick.
“The Senate’s ethics report reveals a deeply disturbing pattern of behavior, making it clear that Sen. Rosenberg has compromised the business of the chamber and trust of his constituents,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “For the good of the institution and those who elected him to serve, I believe the senator needs to resign immediately. My thoughts remain with the victims and I commend them for their bravery.”
“Because Senator Rosenberg allowed a destructive pattern of behavior to continue over the course of many years, violating the trust that my colleagues and I invested in him, it is my firm belief that he should resign,” said Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “Doing so will move us towards our goal of healing the Senate and making it a safe, welcoming and productive place for everyone.”
On Thursday, Rosenberg released a lengthy statement that included his resignation from the Senate. Here is the statement in its entirety:
“As I have stated repeatedly over the last 5 months, I deeply regret the difficulties that this situation has created for the members, the staff and the institution of the Senate.
In its report, Hogan Lovells found no conduct by me that violated Senate rules or state ethics law, no evidence that Bryon influenced my actions as Senate president, and no knowledge on my part of any alleged sexual advances, assaults or attempts by Bryon to influence other senators or staff.
The report does, however, summarize statements from witnesses alleging that Bryon engaged in actions that harmed them and others, and it finds fault with my not having done more to control Bryon’s access to information and to the people who worked in and around the Senate.
Although, as the report notes, I was unaware of many of the events attributed to Bryon and took steps to address those incidents that came to my attention, that does not diminish my sorrow at what reportedly transpired or my sense of responsibility for what the Ethics Committee concludes was a failure on my part in not doing more to protect the Senate. I have devoted nearly forty years of my life to public service with over 25 years in the Senate, motivated always by the best interests of that body and my constituents. To the extent my efforts fell short, and most especially to all who have been affected by the events described in the Hogan Lovells report, I convey my sincere apology.
I had hoped that, with the conclusion of the investigation, I would be able to focus, once again, on representing my constituents and contributing meaningfully to the work of the Senate. In light, however, of the disciplinary measures recommended by the Ethics Committee, it would not be fair to my constituents to have a representative in the Senate who lacked the authority to represent their interests fully. I have resigned from my position as State Senator for the Hampshire Franklin and Worcester District effective Friday May 4, 2018 at 5 pm.”
SENATE ACCEPTS ROSENBERG’S RESIGNATION AND APOLOGIZES (S 2511)
Senate 37-0, approved resolutions accepting Sen. Rosenberg’s resignation and telling the victims and others whose lives were affected by this incident that the Senate is sorry and must do better.
The Senate also pledged “to work diligently and swiftly to fortify the Senate’s systems for preventing and intervening in harassment in all its forms and [promising] that the staff and all those who walk through the Statehouse doors must be able to work in confidence that these policies are lived values and not mere pieces of paper.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the resolutions).
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
BENEFITS AND SERVICES FOR VETERANS (S 2454)
Senate 37-0, approved and sent to the House a bill that would expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families.
Provisions include ensuring that public workers receive paid military leave for up to 40 days if they are away from their job and can’t perform their duties; allowing cities and towns to designate a reserved parking space for veterans at city and town halls; reducing from five years to two years the residency period required for some veteran’s property tax exemptions; and increasing coverage for funeral expenses for indigent veterans from $ 2,000 to 4,000.
“This omnibus veteran’s legislation encompasses some of the very best ideas presented by my colleagues in the Legislature and the veterans of the commonwealth to assist veterans and their families with employment protections, tax exemptions, burial expenses, court programs, medical care, and also continues to recognize those who serve and who have served,” said Sen. Mike Rush (D-Boston) the sponsor of the bill and the Senate Chair of the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “We want to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation in providing for our veterans, men and women in uniform, and their families. This legislation goes a long way in accomplishing this goal.”
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
INCREASE PROPERTY TAX REDUCTION FOR VETERAN VOLUNTEERS (S 2454)
Senate 37-0, approved an amendment to a current law that allows veterans to do volunteer work in their city or town and get up to a $1,000 property tax reduction in exchange. Local cities and towns are not required to offer the volunteer program and the decision whether to opt in is up to each individual city or town.
The amendment would raise the limit of the allowable property tax reductions to 175 hours at the current minimum wage of $11 per hour. That would make the new ceiling $1,925.
Amendment supporters said this additional $925 would help many veterans and their families further reduce the cost of their property taxes and in some cases, might even prevent them from being forced out of their homes.
(A “Yes” vote is for the hike to $1,925.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
FLAGS AT HALF-MAST ON SEPTEMBER 11 (S 1820)
Senate 37-0, approved a bill that would require that flags be flown at half-staff each September 11 in honor of the brave Americans who perished in the terrorist attack.
Supporters said this tribute will ensure that the first responders and civilians who died will never be forgotten.
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
NO ROBOCALLS TO CELL PHONES (H 201) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that would prohibit robocalls to cell phones and other mobile electronic devices. The measure exempts messages from school districts to students, parents or employees; from companies advising employees of work schedules; from correctional facilities advising victims of the release of an offender; from municipalities and state government; from public utilities; and from persons concerning the care, services or supplies related to the health of an individual.
The measure would fine companies up to $10,000 if they make an illegal robocall and allow an individual who is called more than once in a year to sue a company for $10,000 in damages.
Supporters say it is time to put a stop to these calls which can be very annoying. They note that sometimes robocalls cost the cell phone user money if he or she pays for incoming calls.
“This legislation would be helpful to consumers dealing with the nuisance of unwanted telemarketing calls to their cell phones.” said sponsor William Straus (D-Mattapoisett). “We need the same protection for cell phones today as has been in place for landlines. Consumer protection statutes should advance with the changes in technology.”
SEATBELTS ON SCHOOL BUSES (H 1257) -The House gave initial approval to a bill requiring school buses with more than 16 seats to be equipped with lap shoulder seat belts.
“I filed this legislation to enhance safety of our children while riding a school bus,” said Rep. James Dwyer (D-Woburn). “Parents send their children to school and expect us to do everything we can to keep them safe.”
Supporters said the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Safety Council have long recommended that passenger seat belts be installed on all newly manufactured school buses. “That’s the best protection that we can give our kids, said council president Deborah Hersman. “It’s what they’re used to in cars. We know that there are very few fatalities involving children on school buses every year – they are a safe form of transportation – but anything we can do to make them safer is really our responsibility.”
Opponents said that school buses are already considered to be very safe. They noted that adding seat belts can be costly and requiring their installation might result in reducing a city or town’s funding of other critical safety aspects like crossing guards. Some noted that there is no scientific or empirical data that shows seat belts on school buses would offer more protection.
POLICE CARS AT AUCTION: (H 210) – The House gave initial approval to a bill that hikes from $10 to $500 the minimum fine imposed on anyone who sells a police car to an individual without first removing all words and insignias that relate to police cars and then painting the exterior with one solid color. The bill would also raise the fine to $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses.
“This law is commonly skirted resulting in an inappropriate number of civilians driving around our communities in cars still bearing police markings and paint schemes,” said sponsor Tim Whelan (R-Brewster). “I think a whole lot of citizens see this regularly and are rightly concerned about persons posing as police officers in what look like real police vehicles. This bill aims to improve the re-seller’s compliance with the existing law.”
The increased fine also applies to anyone who sells a motor vehicle, without informing the buyer in writing, that the vehicle’s engine or electrical parts have been submerged in water, or that the car has been used as a police car, a taxicab or a rental vehicle.
COUNTERFEIT AIRBAGS (H 4051) – The House gave initial approval to legislation that would impose a 2.5-year prison sentence and/or up to $5,000 fine on anyone who imports or sells counterfeit airbags in Massachusetts. Over the past few years, thousands of counterfeit airbags have made their way into the Bay State through purchases and sales on the Internet.
“I’m thrilled that the House has passed H 4051,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “This bill will provide a real disincentive to those who would consider producing or selling counterfeit airbags in Massachusetts.”
DIVEST THE STATE PENSION FUND FROM FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION COMPANIES (H 4402, S 2407) – The Committee on Public Service held a hearing on a bill that would require the state’s $71.6 billion pension fund to divest itself of all companies that derive 15 percent or more of their income from selling firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition.
“These companies have not shown a willingness to work with shareholders to address the safety of their products,” said state Treasurer Deb Goldberg whose office oversees the fund. “In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, I was inspired by the brave students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and moved to act on gun violence prevention here in Massachusetts.”
“I hope this bill will be enacted, to demonstrate that Massachusetts is committed to doing all we can to stop gun violence,” said Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton), the sponsor of the Senate bill. “Manufacturing assault weapons for sale to the general public is not something our state should be investing its pension funds in.”
Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), the House sponsor, said that the Legislature has demonstrated a seriousness about gun violence and that Massachusetts now has the strictest gun laws in the nation. “That seriousness is undermined when we invest our public pension fund in companies that profit from gun violence,” said Ehrlich. “We should not be protecting residents of the state with one hand and enabling gun manufacturers and retailers with the other. It is both inconsistent and counterproductive.”
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of April 30-May 4, the House met for a total of one hour and 50 minutes while the Senate met for a total of seven hours and 54 minutes.
Mon. April 30 House 10:05 a.m. to 11:27 a.m.
Senate 11:02 a.m. to 12:31 p.m.
Tues. May 1 No House session
No Senate session.
Wed. May 2 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. May 3 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Fri. May 4 No House session
No Senate session