The confidentiality question

When it hired an outside law firm to investigate Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Senate Ethics Committee promised victims of sexual assault that they would not pay a professional price for coming forward.

“I am committed to a fair and thorough review of the facts as well as a process that ensures confidentiality for any person who has any information to report on sexual harassment or sexual assaults,” said Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, the chair of the committee.

But now Gov. Charlie Baker, relying on press reports, is worried that confidentiality may not be guaranteed. “I was concerned by the story I read over the weekend that basically said that many people who would otherwise wish to be interviewed don’t want to come forward because they don’t believe that the investigation is going to protect their anonymity,” he said.

The story Baker was referring to was a Sunday column by Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham, who has been the mouthpiece for four men who allege they were sexually assaulted in 2015 and 2016 by Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner. In her initial report on November 30, Abraham indicated the men were unlikely to step forward, but in the Sunday column she said one of the men is cooperating with the Senate’s investigators, another is working with the attorney general’s office on its criminal probe of Hefner, and two others are not talking.

Abraham said the two men and possibly others familiar with Hefner’s activities in the Senate are concerned about protecting their anonymity, partly because of a story first reported by WGBH that indicated the investigators would have to reveal to the six senators on the Ethics Committee the names of any witnesses they wished to subpoena.

“That has had a chilling effect on witnesses who, like many of the women and men who have talked about harassment in state politics, fear being stigmatized for speaking out, and harming their causes in a building built on relationships and reputations,” Abraham wrote on Sunday.

But keep in mind that confidentiality is being promised to those who speak voluntarily to the lawyers conducting the investigation. Only if those lawyers decide they need to compel someone to testify would they seek a subpoena with the help of the senators on the committee.

“As long as they come forward voluntarily, they will have full confidentiality,” said acting Senate President Harriette Chandler. “That’s what this whole program is about: to make sure that they have total and complete confidentiality.”

Some have suggested the investigators should be given subpoena power to put the fears of potential witnesses to rest, but another approach might be doing away with subpoenas all together and relying only on information provided by those who voluntarily cooperate.

Even that may not do the trick, however. Abraham said some of Hefner’s alleged victims were skittish after it was reported many of Rosenberg’s supporters in the Senate would like to see him return to the rostrum. “There’s no way I would come forward,” Abraham quoted one of them as saying. “This is an investigation to clear Stan Rosenberg’s name. It’s not an investigation to find out the truth.”

But truth is likely to be a bit murky in this investigation, which ultimately seeks to determine whether Hefner’s claims of having influence over Rosenberg and the Senate were true or simply the boasts of a man looking to score.

Joe Battenfeld of the Boston Herald says the Senate should scrap its compromised investigation and leave things to the real prosecutors, Suffolk DA Dan Conley and Attorney General Maura Healey.

Abraham also seems to have made up her mind that the Senate investigation is doomed to fail. “When it comes to harassment, the culture in the State House is broken,” she said in the conclusion to her Sunday column. “Nothing short of radical change will fix it.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to lay out a play-it-safe agenda in his State of the State address tonight, highlighting his tried and true theme of bipartisan cooperation with the Democratic Legislature. (Boston Herald)

A bill filed by Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell would make fantasy sports gambling legal. (State House News)

The Massachusetts House advances a $1.7 housing bond bill. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Isabel Melendez, a politically connected operative who runs an anti-poverty operation in Lawrence, receives a lot of financial support from the city without complying with requirements governing most charities. (Eagle-Tribune)

Two Quincy city councilors are seeking to add gender identity to the list of protected statuses under the city’s anti-discrimination bylaw. (Patriot Ledger)

Fall River’s Redevelopment Authority agreed to a wording change in its contract with the private Fall River Office of Economic Development that allows for termination only “for cause” rather than “convenience.” The move came just as Mayor Jasiel Correia, who has a running feud with the private nonprofit, was set to appoint two new members to the redevelopment board. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Democrats in the Senate agreed to end the government shutdown in exchange for a promised debate on immigration but liberals say party leaders betrayed them by giving in too early and not extracting enough. (New York Times)

The White House announced tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines of 30 percent and 20 percent respectively beginning next year, the first concrete action by President Trump to follow through on campaign promises of protectionism. (New York Times)

Elon Musk is staying on at Tesla and says he will be paid nothing unless the company achieves “jaw-dropping milestones.” (New York Times)

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a one-on-one interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg, shared her #MeToo moments of sexual harassment and discrimination in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

ELECTIONS

Gays for Trump.” For real. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Boston city councilors raise concerns about Mayor Marty Walsh’s new Airbnb regs. (CommonWealth) In Salem, officials are also crafting Airbnb rules and seeking legislative approval to assess a 6 percent tax on short-term rentals. (Salem News) In Lenox, emotions run high as residents discuss the pros and cons of short-term rentals. (Berkshire Eagle)

Nicholas Mattiello, the House speaker in Rhode Island, says a plan to build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox is dead. That may leave Worcester in a position to land the team. (FoxProvidence.com)

“If Massachusetts can’t attract Amazon without crafting a package stuffed with what amount to kickbacks and rewards, it should drop out of the competition,” says Jeff Jacoby. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Former UMass Dartmouth chancellor Divina Grossman has landed as president of the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, a graduate institute with five campuses in Florida, California, and Texas. (Standard-Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is considering suing pharmaceutical companies over the opioid crisis. (MassLive)

While most of the focus seems to be on whether Patriots receiver Rob Gronkowski, who sustained a concussion in Sunday’s playoff game, will be able to play in the Super Bowl, Lindsay Kalter explains why that could be a very risky thing to do even if he is cleared to play according to the NFL concussion protocol. (Boston Herald)

The Merrimack has become a river of needles, reports the Herald.

Public employee unions are not happy about state plans to trim back their health care plan options. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

T notes: No one is talking officials, but the body language of officials suggests the T’s plan to privatize three bus maintenance garages has been shelved. (CommonWealth)

The MBTA is seeking a contractor to provide limited bus service from Mattapan into East Boston and Chelsea from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. each day. But there’s no guarantee the service will get off the ground. An earlier RFP turned up no bidders and it’s unclear whether the T will proceed on its own. (Boston Herald) An earlier story on late-night service incorrectly suggested the service was a done deal. (WGBH)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Brian Murphy of IBEW Local 104, a backer of the Northern Pass transmission project to deliver hydropower from Canada into New England, whacks the Conservation Law Foundation for backing a rival project without disclosing the foundation’s financial ties to that initiative. (CommonWealth)

The state’s possible decision to import a lot more hydroelectricity from Quebec could put Massachusetts in the middle of a long-running battle between the province-owned utility Hydro-Quebec and the indigenous population in the area that says the company has ruined their land. (Boston Globe)

The Coast Guard is investigating the source of an oil spill in Woods Hole that left a heavy sheen on the harbor’s surface and appears to have caused a number of bird deaths. (Cape Cod Times)

The St. Louis-based buyers of the shuttered Brayton Point power plant in Somerset have finalized the purchase and are now responsible for the environmental clean-up of the facility. (Herald News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Boston experiences four gang-related killings in four days, and officials seem flummoxed over what to do about it. (Boston Globe)

State Police say they’re investigating “payroll discrepancies” that may have led to troopers being paid for shifts they never actually worked. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

The Denver Post launched a paywall. (Columbia Journalism Review)