Rosenberg: Senator assignments were tougher than redistricting

BOSTON — Senate President Stanley Rosenberg will retain the core of his senior leadership team as he begins his second term as the top Democrat in the Senate, doling out leadership and committee assignments on Wednesday that featured the elevation of several women and new faces in key energy, economic development and labor posts.

A pro-legalization senator will lead the Senate's effort to make changes to the marijuana ballot law after Rosenberg tapped Somerville Sen. Patricia Jehlen to lead the new Committee on Marijuana Policy.

Jehlen, who supported the legalization campaign last fall, will take the lead for the Senate as the branch looks to work with the House over the next several months to revamp the new law and review everything from taxes on retail sales of marijuana to local control over the location of pot shops and the potency of edible marijuana products.

"She was a supporter of the marijuana question. She's done some homework. I don't know how deep her knowledge base goes, but she is a fair-minded person, she's a quick learner and she's a great listener and I'm confident she will create a process in which everyone who needs to be at the table will have a seat at the table," Rosenberg told the News Service about his choice.

Sen. Jason Lewis, a legal marijuana opponent, will serve as vice chair of the new committee. Lewis spearheaded the Senate's marijuana policy research last session, but emerged as a vocal opponent of the ballot law and filed more than a dozen bills this session to restrict the sale of pot and reform the law.

Though Lewis's activism prompted legalization advocates to urge against his appointment to lead the committee, Rosenberg said putting a supporter of legal marijuana in the top position was not the "principal issue" for him choosing Jehlen over Lewis.

"He has a different approach and deep knowledge, which is why he's vice chair, and he had some other interests he wanted to pursue this term," Rosenberg said.

Lewis will remain chair of the Committee on Public Health and takes over as chairman of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development at a time when unions and other groups are threatening to go to the ballot in 2018 if the Legislature does not approve a $15 an hour minimum wage. Former Sen. Dan Wolf, another proponent of a $15 minimum wage, chaired the labor committee last session.

Six weeks into the new session, Senate Democrats caucused in private on Wednesday to ratify the leadership and committee assignments proposed by Rosenberg. Some of shuffling at the top of the leadership ranks was spurred by the departure of three Democratic senators who did not seek re-election in November.

Rosenberg said he's glad to have the process completed so committees can organize and begin hearing bills, and the marijuana committee can start its work once the House appoints committees on Thursday. Rosenberg has said he hoped to have a marijuana bill done by June, but Gov. Charlie Baker has suggested an April timeframe is necessary.

"I've done redistricting twice and I've done appointments twice and this is more difficult than redistricting. It really is," he said.

Sen. Michael Barrett, a major proponent of carbon pricing, will succeed Benjamin Downing as chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, a panel expected to weigh major policy changes as lawmakers continue to examine energy sources, pricing and reliability.

The other senator to leave after last session was Milton Sen. Brian Joyce.

Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, an Arlington Democrat who has returned to work after battling cancer late last year, will take Joyce's post in the leadership ranks as one of three assistant majority leaders alongside Sen. Cynthia Creem and Sen. Mark Montigny.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, moves up one slot to fill Donnelly's previous position as majority whip, and Sens. Linda Forry and Joan Lovely will serve as assistant majority whips.

Rosenberg said the appointments of Forry, from Dorchester, and Lovely, from Salem, fill geographic voids in his leadership team, which has lacked a senator from Boston since Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston resigned or a senator from "northeast Mass."

Lovely hails from the North Shore, and Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell also joins the ranks of leadership taking over this session from Wolf as chair of the Committee on Steering Policy and Scheduling. Donoghue will also co-chair the new Committee on Export Development.

The Senate this week created an extra assistant majority whip position in its rules to accommodate the appointments of both Forry and Lovely, which carry with it a new $35,000 stipend authorized under the pay raises approved this month.

Apart from those changes, the upper ranks of Rosenberg's leadership team and many of the committee chairmanships — including the perennial hot spots of transportation and health care financing — remain unchanged as he begins his second term at the helm of the Senate.

"A lot of people wanted to stay where they were," he said.

Sen. Harriette Chandler returns as majority leader and will also chair the Redistricting Committee that Downing vacated. Sen. Marc Pacheco will continue as Senate president pro tempore and Sen. Karen Spilka will also stay on for her second cycle as chairwoman of Ways and Means.

Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, will give up his chairmanship of the Revenue Committee to become the majority whip and chair of the Ethics Committee, creating an opening at the top of the Revenue Committee that was filled by Sen. Michael Brady, of Brockton.

Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, takes over as chair of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies with fellow western Massachusetts resident and vice-chairman Sen. Adam Hinds.

The Senate also plans to adopt orders in the near future to create a Special Senate Committee on Opioids, a Special Senate Committee on Elders and Home Care and a Senate subcommittee of the Committee on Education with seats that will need to be filled.

The branch has already voted to created a Special Senate Committee on Citizen Engagement.


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