House, Senate announce leadership appointments

New committees, new assignments, ups and downs

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

HOUSE AND SENATE Democrats ratified their committee assignments for the two-year session Friday, approving the leadership and committee structure that includes new posts meant to boost oversight of the state’s COVID-19 response, federal stimulus funds, and the US Census and redistricting process, and to weigh the myriad issues that await Massachusetts on the other side of the pandemic.

Speaker Ronald Mariano unveiled the first committee slate of his speakership in a Friday afternoon caucus and Senate President Karen Spilka doled out assignments for her branch at a unpublicized noontime caucus. Mariano had announced his core leadership team Thursday and Spilka revealed Friday that her main leadership group will remain the same as last session.

Friday’s assignments put the typical committee structure in place for the Legislature to get to work reviewing the roughly 1,800 House bills and about 1,200 Senate bills filed so far to deal with the COVID-19 response, the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, the racial justice issues that sparked last year’s massive protests, routine local matters, and the typical potpourri of any legislative session.

Some committees will break new ground on issues this session, while others are more likely to start off by trying to find resolution on issues that were debated at length last session. The representatives and senators appointed Friday to serve as chairs of committees will wield influence over the legislation before their panels and will aim to control the flow of bills to the House and Senate floors.

Though the joint committees are made up of members from both branches, representatives outnumber senators on each committee, giving the House and the House chair the upper hand in the joint committee structure.

>>> Compare this session’s committee assignments to last session’s roster here <<<

New Committees

Rep. William Driscoll of Milton, who has a background in disaster response and emergency management, was tapped by the new speaker to serve as the House leader of the new Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, which Mariano and Spilka created to provide oversight of the state’s pandemic response and to take on an advisory role for the Legislature. Rep. Jon Santiago of Boston’s South End, who works as an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center, will be the House vice-chair. Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton, who led the Senate’s own COVID-focused working group last session, will serve as Senate co-chair.

Mariano said last week that the Baker administration’s vaccine rollout has been “marked by communications and operational shortcomings” that need to be corrected, in part guided by feedback from the Legislature, as the effort continues.

“Specifically, we have witnessed a disconnect between the Department of Public Health and those administering the vaccine, siting and availability issues in many regions across the state, and communications breakdowns in the vaccine booking system,” the speaker said. “We must be particularly mindful about addressing gaps in health equity and supporting individuals with disabilities and those without access to transportation.”

Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield will chair the new Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion for the House and will oversee a review of existing laws and proposals, a study of the impacts of existing laws, and whatever legislation the committee advances “so that the Legislature can craft policy to begin to dismantle systemic racism and promote equitable opportunities and outcomes for all residents,” the speaker and Senate president said when they announced the new committee. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain will be Williams’ Senate counterpart.

The third new joint committee, the Committee on Advanced Information Technology, the Internet and Cybersecurity, will be chaired in the House by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell of Methuen and for the Senate by Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover.

The House also created a new House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight, two major issues of 2021, that will be led by Rep. Daniel Hunt of Dorchester. The panel will be tasked with reviewing federal spending, including stimulus bills and block grants, and recommending ways Massachusetts can tap into additional federal resources.

It will also work with the special redistricting committee “to ensure continued communication with all stakeholders, including the Secretary of State’s office, to ensure the Commonwealth has the necessary structure and resources in place for an accurate and complete census count,” Mariano’s office said.

Shuffling the deck

Mariano’s elevation of Rep. Claire Cronin of Easton created an opening atop the Committee on the Judiciary, which the speaker chose to fill by appointing Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham to lead the crucial and often busy panel. Day opened a private practice after practicing law at Mintz Levin in Boston for almost a decade and then serving as special assistant district attorney in Middlesex County. Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton will be Senate co-chair again this session.

And Rep. Thomas Golden of Lowell moving into a division leader position meant there would be a new chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. That job went to Rep. Jeff Roy of Franklin, who most recently chaired the Committee on Higher Education. Roy could now lead the House through its response to the amendments Gov. Charlie Baker recently returned with a major climate policy bill that Golden helped write and negotiate. Sen. Michael Barrett  of Lexington will continue to co-chair the committee for the Senate.

Roy’s former chairmanship at the helm of the Committee on Higher Education this session will be held by Rep. David Rogers of Cambridge, who last session led the Committee on Cannabis Policy. That panel will be chaired this session by Rep. Daniel Donahue of Worcester.

The retirement of Rep. Harold Naughton left open the chairmanship of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield, who chaired the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus last session and was one of the six conference committee members who negotiated the final policing reform law, will lead the Public Safety Committee as the police accountability law is implemented over the next two years.

That committee will have two new chairs — Sen. Walter Timilty of Milton will take the reins on the Senate side from Sen. Michael Moore of Millbury. Moore will instead lead the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee.

Rep. Josh Cutler of Duxbury will lead the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development for the House, a panel that deals with major issues like the minimum wage and worker safety protections each session but could have an even more significant role over the next two years as Massachusetts tries to rebound from the massive job losses of the pandemic and position itself for, as Gov. Charlie Baker calls it, “the future of work.” Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville returns to serve as Senate co-chair.

The Committee on Health Care Financing, which could be key to the speaker’s stated priority of working to stabilize community hospitals, will be  under the leadership of Rep. John Lawn of Watertown. Lawn last chaired the Election Laws Committee, which will be handed off to Rep. Daniel Ryan of Charlestown. Sen. Cindy Friedman will return to chair the Health Care Financing Committee on the Senate side.

The committee has been in flux more often than not over the last few years. The death of Chairman Peter Kocot in 2018 preceded failed negotiations with the Senate on a significant health care bill and the last representative tabbed to lead the committee, Rep. Jennifer Benson, resigned in early 2020 to lead the Alliance for Business Leadership.

The Committee on Elder Affairs, led last session by Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton, will this session be led by Rep. Thomas Stanley of Waltham. Balser was elevated to serve as a division leader this term. Sen. Jehlen will continue in her role as Senate co-chair.

Rep. Denise Garlick of Needham, who previously served as the number-two on the Ways and Means Committee, is Mariano’s pick to chair the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, which former Rep. Ted Speliotis vacated when he retired. The committee is responsible for reviewing “all bills and resolves” for constitutionality and proper grammar, and to avoid duplication. It’s one of the least visible committees, but virtually no legislation is passed without going through the committee.

Similarly left vacant by a retirement was the chair of the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling, another of the Legislature’s more obscure, but inherently powerful, panels. Rep. Kevin Honan of Brighton, who previously chaired the Housing Committee, was chosen to head up the committee charged with “identifying the major matters pending before the General Court, the relative urgency and priority for consideration of such matters, and alternative methods of responding to such matters by the General Court.” Rep. James Arciero of Westford will now lead the Housing Committee.

Mariano’s committee assignments shuffled the House’s redistricting committee structure in a year when lawmakers will redraw the boundaries for legislative districts.

The House replaced its branch-specific Redistricting Committee with the new Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight Committee. Mariano also tapped members to a separate Special Committee on Redistricting and Reapportionment, with Rep. Michael Moran of Boston as House chair and Rep. Marcos Devers of Lawrence as vice-chair.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leadership convened a Senate Standing Committee on Redistricting led by Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont, just as it did in the 2019-2020 lawmaking session.

Diminished roles, and a comeback

Though some representatives and senators logged off of their virtual caucus with promotions, some found out that they may have diminished roles, at least in title, as the new session gets underway.

Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset held the number-three House role, speaker pro tempore, for nearly all of Robert DeLeo’s record-setting tenure as speaker and was re-appointed to the position when Mariano was elected speaker in December. She was not reappointed to a leadership position and on Friday was named vice-chair of the Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

Rep. Paul Donato of Medford, who was one of DeLeo’s second assistant majority leaders and played a key role in Mariano’s desire to keep House business running smoothly amid his transition and the chaotic end of the session, will this session serve as assistant vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

On the Senate side of the building, Sen. Diana DiZoglio, who has frequently challenged the transparency of both House and Senate leadership during her time serving in both branches, was moved from her chairmanship of the Committee on Community Development to the less visible Committee on Export Development.

The Methuen Democrat called the title a “moot point” since she said she was unable to get multiple requested meetings with Democratic leadership to work on bills moving through that committee.

“I do take issue with the lack of diversity in our leadership team & increased centralization of power,” she said on Twitter.

And Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, the dean of the Senate and one of the loudest voices for climate action in the Legislature, was removed from his position as chairman of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. He will still co-chair the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, but Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem will lead the Global Warming Committee for the next two years.

Meet the Author
Returning to a position of power for the first time since Sal Dimasi was speaker of the House is Rep. John Rogers of Norwood, who will serve as vice-chair of the Committee on Housing. Rogers spent two sessions (2001 to 2004) as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and then served as DiMasi’s majority leader. But he lost a speakership fight to DeLeo and has not held a chairmanship or vice chairmanship since.

Matt Murphy and Chris Lisinski contributed to this report.