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It's A Time Of Transition In The Mass. Senate: The Week Ahead On Beacon Hill

It's been quite a few weeks for the Massachusetts Senate. Last Friday, former state Senator Brian Joyce pleaded not guilty to charges that he used his Senate office to collect up to $1 million in bribes and kickbacks. That went down while the Senate was dealing with some internal confusion.

A week ago, Amherst Democrat Stan Rosenberg temporarily resigned the Senate presidency during an ethics investigation. His husband, Bryon Hefner, is accused of sexual assault and harassment by four men, who also told The Boston Globe that Hefner promised he could influence legislative business.

State House News Service reporter Matt Murphy said that for the time being, Harriette Chandler of Worcester is the acting Senate president.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: For now, Senator Rosenberg has not come back to the Statehouse, but he will be leaving and vacating the Senate president's office.

There have been talks ongoing throughout the week about what that means for his staff. He has given up his stipend -- $80,000 - that comes with being Senate president, and that was, of course, just increased this past January, when they passed that huge package of pay raises for legislators.

The staff is still being worked out. Harriette Chandler obviously had her own people with her, in her majority leader's office, where she will continue to work out of. But some of the [Senate] president's staff, particularly -- probably the policy people -- could be leaned on as she takes over full responsibility of the president.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Moving forward, will Stan Rosenberg be assigned to committees, and be expected just to function as a rank-and-file senator? What's expected?

Yeah, we've asked that question, and nobody seems to know. And to some degree, I mean, Harriette Chandler did not walk into that eight-hour caucus last Monday knowing for sure that she would leave as Senate president. So a lot of this stuff was not completely thought through.

The Senate president [Stan Rosenberg] is remaining on in the Senate for now, so he is essentially just a rank-and-file lawmaker, who typically would be assigned to committees.

But we don't know, given the tempering nature of Chandler's stay, at least according to her, what that means for him: if he will be treated differently, or the same? I mean, he could just be out on an island, waiting for this ethics committee investigation to conclude. 

Your colleague Stephanie Murray caught up with Stan Rosenberg when he was on the UMass campus late last week, and he told her that he hoped "his name would be cleared." When do we expect that investigation to begin?

The Ethics Committee last week met formally for the first time, after the full Senate approved this investigation. And this committee, chaired by Senator Michael Rodrigues of Westport, has said that they hope to hire an independent investigator, possibly -- according to one other senator -- someone from out of state with absolutely no ties to anyone in Massachusetts politics.

That person could be brought on within two weeks. So, after that, then the investigation will have to unfold.

You know, we've heard some people throw around time frames like 30 days, or 45 days. But the official word has been that no timetable will be put on this investigation. So it's kind of an open-ended thing, which leaves a cloud hanging over the Senate as they move towards the second year of the session. 

And here we are, a couple weeks into December, and there aren't any formal discussions scheduled for the coming week on issues such as criminal justice. But will there be any informal discussion, or have these Rosenberg allegations and related talks sucked all the oxygen out of the room?

For now, the Rosenberg investigation and the whole situation with his husband, Bryon Hefner, has completely occupied the attention of the full Senate.

There is a conference committee, at least for criminal justice, appointed. They have not formally met yet.

And Acting [Senate] President Chandler said she's hoping for a return "to regular order," her words, relatively soon.

But until they can get the full staff in place, and figure out the structure of how she will operate, and how this will proceed, it seems that things are a bit on hold. 

Is that to be expected? Are people getting restless with that? Do they want to get back to regular order?

They absolutely do. I think last week was a very trying week for a lot of the senators. It was [an] uncomfortable week. They were spending a lot of time talking to each other -- phone calls we know of -- back and forth, trying to figure out what's next. And there's obviously the jockeying going on behind the scenes to possibly succeed Chandler and Rosenberg, should he not be able to return, or should he decide not to be able to return.

But I think many of the senators would like to get back to talking about their agenda, and their policy, but it will take some time. 

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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