BOSTON (State House News Service) – Senate President Stanley Rosenberg pulled the curtains back on his senior leadership team on Wednesday, doling out committee assignments and posts that will help chart the course for the Senate over the next two years.
The selections, while just a piece of the puzzle in developing an agenda for the beginning two-year cycle, can often be based on past work or loyalty and send signals to lobbyists and advocates who may have hopes of advancing or blocking legislation this session.
Rosenberg also gave clues to potential debates in the Senate with the creation of five special Senate committees, including one focused on examining the issue of marijuana legalization and the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana law. Other special committees will look at charter schools and innovative education models, housing creation, opioid addiction and government spending accountability.
One of the most intensely scrutinized and coveted positions – chair of the powerful budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee – went to Ashland Sen. Karen Spilka, a sixth-term Democrat.
The former Congressional candidate went immediately to work preparing for Thursday’s consensus revenue hearing that will help lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration settle on a fiscal 2016 revenue estimate that will become the building block for a new state budget.
Rosenberg tapped Worcester Sen. Harriette Chandler to fill the majority leader position he held last session, and expanded the number of assistant majority leaders from one to three, filling those posts with Sen. Cynthia Creem, Sen. Brian Joyce and Sen. Mark Montigny.
Each of those assistant majority leaders will also chair another Senate standing committee, with Creem taking over Ethics, Montigny in charge of Rules and Joyce heading up Bills in Third Reading.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, the second longest serving member of the member of the Senate after Rosenberg, will take over for Richard Moore as Senate president pro tempore. Moore lost his bid for re-election to Republican Ryan Fattman.
East Boston Democrat Sen. Anthony Petruccelli, who last session chaired the Financial Services Committee, will move into the leadership ranks as majority whip, and Arlington Sen. Kenneth Donnelly moved up the ranks to assistant majority whip.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an staunchly liberal Democrat, will take over for Petruccelli as chair of the Financial Services committee, which plays a role in regulating the banking industry.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico will take over as vice-chairman of Ways and Means.
“When I did the swearing-in speech I talked about shared leadership and shared responsibility and empowering the members and the structure we created is intended to make that work,” Rosenberg said, speaking to reporters outside his office.
Spilka, who last session served as majority whip, takes the Ways and Means Committee from Stephen Brewer, who did not seek re-election. Asked about his selection of Spilka to lead Ways and Means, Rosenberg called her a “very experienced member.”
“She’s worked on very challenging assignments. She’s a strong negotiator. She’s a good listener and you have to have a lot of stamina and patience and she’s got both in abundance,” Rosenberg said.
Rep. Brian Dempsey, who is expected to remain on as House Ways and Means chairman, congratulated Spilka, who served in the House before joining the Senate.
“I look forward to forming a strong working relationship with her in what promises to be a challenging year. The role of leading the Ways and Means Committee is a daunting task, but I know that Chairwoman Spilka will get right to work and do her very best to keep the Commonwealth moving in the right direction,” Dempsey said in a statement.
Rosenberg said he took into account gender and geographic diversity when assembling his team, along with experience and expertise. He specifically pointed to Sen. Jennifer Flanagan as an example of that, given her past work on substance abuse and mental health.
Flanagan last session served under Brewer as vice chairwoman of Ways and Means, but will now lead the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, the Joint Committee on Children and Families and a new Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction.
Sen. Jason Lewis will chair the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana with the potential looming for advocates to put a question to legalize marijuana on the 2016 ballot.
Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry will chair both the Joint Committee on Housing and the Special Senate Committee on Housing, tasked with examining housing policy and increasing access to low- and moderate-income housing options.
After last year’s contentious debate in the Senate over charter school expansion, Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz will remain chair of the Education Committee with another ardent charter school skeptic Sen. Patricia Jehlen as her vice-chairwoman. Jehlen will also lead the Special Senate Committee on Innovative Education.
“Both of those senators have engaged in extensive research and conversations with people trying to figure out how to move forward on charters, solving the problems people have been raising,” Rosenberg said. “During the debate last year, Sen. Chang-Diaz was not trying to kill charter schools. She was trying to find what she called ‘the third way.”
The Senate has also created three new standing committees: Intergovernmental Affairs, Redistricting and Personnel and Administration.
Sen. Benjamin Downing will chair the new standing Senate Committee on Redistricting, as he also keeps his post from last session as chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. Forry will chair the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee focused on working with the state Congressional delegation to leverage federal dollars, and Sen. Michael Rush will chair the Personnel and Administration Committee, as well as the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee.
A number of senators retained their chairmanships from last session, including Sen. James Welch at the Health Care Financing Committee, Sen. Daniel Wolf as chair of Labor and Workforce Development, Sen. Thomas Kennedy as chair of Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, Sen. William Brownsberger as chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Thomas McGee as chair of the Transportation Committee, and Sen. Michael Rodrigues as chair of the Revenue Committee.
Among the three new Democratic senators getting their first committee assignments, Sen. Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, will chair the Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee; Sen. Barbara L’Italien, of Andover, will chair Municipalities and Regional Government; and Sen. Ann Gobi takes over at Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.
Lowell Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who got the ball rolling in the Legislature on Boston’s 2024 summer Olympic bid, will chair the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee in the new session.