Lacking confidence in sex harassment probe

When the Senate voted to hire an outside counsel to investigate sexual assault and harassment allegations against then-Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s husband, part of the motivation was to give victims and witnesses the comfort of coming forward with an assurance of confidentiality.

Without such guarantees, many victims’ advocates said, it would be impossible to have a complete investigation because State House staffers would worry about their jobs amid fears of retaliation. The advocates worried that victims would either refuse to come forward or, if forced, give less-than-fulsome accounts of what they knew. While some legislative leaders scoffed at such concerns, it appears confidentiality is not guaranteed.

WGBH’s Mike Deehan reports that the lawyers from the firm Hogan Lovells, which was tapped to direct the probe, must submit names and get permission from members of the Senate Ethics Committee if they need to issue subpoenas. That could chill confidence in an independent investigation.

Deehan reports that Senate staffers were briefed on the process by the Senate counsel but were given fuzzy answers as to whether their confidentiality would be protected should they be subpoenaed and testify.

“That’s when a bunch of people were like ‘now that’s a little weird,” one Senate chief of staff told Deehan. “Now members of the committee will know” who is testifying. The chief of staff added that he and others grew “nervous about that,” when the staffers were not assured of confidentiality for themselves or subordinates.

The probe stems from a Boston Globe story last month that quoted a number of anonymous Beacon Hill insiders and lobbyists who accused Bryon Hefner, Rosenberg’s husband, of unwanted advances. Some said Hefner intimated he could influence Rosenberg on issues before the Senate, something Rosenberg has adamantly denied.

There are no indications Rosenberg or members of the Ethics Committee, many of whom are allies of the once- and maybe future president, are looking to direct the probe or silence witnesses. But the potential effects of disclosing witness names to Ethics Committee members could undercut the investigation, which is precisely what many feared.

Rightly or wrongly, there has always been a perception and skepticism about lawmakers policing their own. In addition to the Globe story about Hefner, the paper also ran a piece on other incidents of sexual harassment under the dome. Sen. Jamie Eldridge just introduced a bill to set up an independent commission to field and investigate complaints of sexual harassment at the State House.

“When you have a Senate counsel or House counsel that is appointed by the Senate president or the speaker, it’s just going to create a chilling effect that’s going to cause people not to complain,” Eldridge told State House News Service when he first pondered the bill. “That’s been one of the really frustrating and heartbreaking experiences over the past few weeks, is talking to people who have been harassed or assaulted but just felt uncomfortable to tell anyone in the Legislature. Their complaints didn’t happen, and that harassment went unaddressed or unpunished.”

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, saying regulation of disruptive technologies is not “rocket science,” suggests the House is to blame for the Legislature’s inaction on Airbnb legislation. (CommonWealth)

Lowell Sun editorial supports Gov. Charlie Baker’s call for involuntary 72-hour holds on opioid addicts.”We’d urge lawmakers to understand that those enslaved by substance abuse no longer exercise freedom of choice,” the editorial said.

The Massachusetts Senate approves legislation that increases penalties and fines for illegal hunting. (Associated Press)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A report commissioned and paid for by the city of Brockton concludes officials did not retaliate in a discrimination case despite a jury finding and $2.4 million award  to the contrary. (The Enterprise)

Shrewsbury officials are seeking approval from the state to add 48 mobile homes to its affordable housing stock , which sits at around 6 percent of the town’s total housing, in an effort to bypass the 10 percent mandate of Chapter 40B. (Wicked Local)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The House passes legislation to avert a government shutdown, but prospects for the bill in the Senate are uncertain. (NPR) The blame game has reached a pinnacle(U.S. News & World Report) Hold up their paychecks until members of Congress get a spending bill done, says Joe Battenfeld. (Boston Herald) State government braces for any effects of a DC shutdown. (Boston Herald)

US Sen. Richard Durbin fills in some of the details of that now-infamous — and profane — meeting with President Trump, saying he now believes the president’s immigration policy is less about jobs and security and more about race, though he stopped short of calling Trump a racist. (New York Times)

The Globe publishes 10 opinion pieces assessing the first year of the Trump presidency. A Herald editorial decries Trump’s attacks on the press, including his absurd “fake news” awards this week.

Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander for claiming that Bishop Juan Barros tried to cover up the sex crimes of Rev. Fernando Karadima. (Associated Press)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Amazon narrowed the field of potential locations for its second headquarters and selected two proposals from Massachusetts, one from Somerville and one from Boston and Revere. (MassLive) Shirley Leung offers local leaders her game plan for winning the prize. (Boston Globe)

Iconic Boston restaurant Jacob Wirth is up for sale. (Boston Herald)

EDUCATION

The University of New Hampshire announces it is letting 18 lecturers go in order to reduce costs. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Like other municipalities, Springfield is planning to sue drug manufacturers for contributing to the opioid crisis. (MassLive)

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain damage found in many former NFL players, can begin among teen players soon after the first hits they sustain, researchers at Boston University report. (Boston Globe)

In southern Berkshire County, the local ambulance service often takes an hour to arrive for emergencies. (Berkshire Eagle)

The state is reducing the number of health plans available to employees in an effort to cut costs. (State House News Service)

Tufts Medical Center CEO Michael Wagner is moving on and up, taking the position of chief physician executive with Wellforce, the hospital’s parent company. (Boston Globe)

Brookline resident gets an owee on his thumb and region freaks out. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Expecting level funding again this year, the Worcester Regional Transit Authority is looking for ways to pare back costs, presumably by cutting service. (Telegram & Gazette)

After complaints from passengers on both sides of the political divide, the Steamship Authority board has voted to ban showing national cable news shows on its terminal and island ferry televisions, opting instead for sports, weather, local news, and other apolitical shows. (Cape Cod Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A fuel security study done by the operator of the region’s power grid draws sharply divergent reactions from those opposed and in favor of adding natural gas pipeline capacity. The Baker administration, meanwhile, said it supports “additional gas pipeline capacity.” (CommonWealth)

2017 was one of the hottest years ever. (Associated Press)

The latest short-term extension for the flood insurance program renewals expires at midnight tonight, which could leave thousands of coastal homeowners uncovered. (Patriot Ledger)

Three conservation groups have filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service saying the federal agency hasn’t done enough to protect right whales. (Cape Cod Times)

MARIJUANA

A spokesman for the Cannabis Control Commission said the agency’s chairman misspoke when he said no effort had been made to reach out to US Attorney Andrew Lelling. The commission acted as if nothing had changed after Lelling indicated he might prosecute those engaged in the marijuana trade. It now turns out another commission member reached out to Lelling for clarification. (State House News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court rules that judges must consider the sentencing recommendations offered in victim impact statements in handing down sentences in criminal cases. (Boston Globe)

It must not have come as a surprise: A Florida psychic was sentenced to 26 months in prison and ordered to repay a Martha’s Vineyard woman more than $3.5 million for bogus exorcisms. (Cape Cod Times)

MEDIA

NPR digs up legal records suggesting Ross Levinsohn, the relatively new publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times, has engaged in frat-boy behavior in work settings in the past.