BOSTON -- Democrats from the Merrimack Valley and North Shore were passed over for top leadership posts in the newly assembled state Senate, but that doesn't mean the region has lost its presence.

The area's four Democratic senators landed committee chairmanships for the two-year session under Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, while picking up key appointments to committees that deal with local government, elderly affairs, substance abuse, finance, healthcare and other issues.

Sen. Barbara L'talien - a freshman Democrat whose district includes Andover, Lawrence, Tewksbury and Dracut - racked up nine committee assignments including a post as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.

She'll also serve as vice chair of the Elder Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs committees, as well as a special panel that is expected to review the effectiveness of charter schools.

L'talien is no stranger to Beacon Hill. She served eight years as a state representative, including a stint as vice chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. She expects the heroin epidemic, economic development, transportation, early education and healthcare finance to dominate much of the new legislative session.

As a member of the Senate Health Care Financing Committee, L'talien will wrestle with proposals to curb costs for the insured, small business owners and the state.

"The state has figured out how to cover people -- we have 97 percent coverage -- but the challenge is now how do we do this in a meaningful way that doesn't break the bank for individuals or the state," she said.

Sen. Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat entering her second term, was tapped by Rosenberg to lead the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, which oversees public projects and contracts, as well as state regulations and open meetings laws.

She will also serve as vice chair of the joint committees on Municipalities and Regional Government; Mental Health and Substance Abuse; and Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. She will belong to two other committees, as well.

Sen. Tom McGee, who represents Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott, was tapped to chair the Joint Committee on Transportation and will serve on three other Senate committees.

And Sen. Kathleen O'Connor-Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, will lead the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, in addition to her role as vice chair of the Personal Personnel and Administration Committee.

O'Connor-Ives, who is entering her second term, will also serve on four other committees.

Rosenberg overlooked the region for top leadership posts.

He named Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, as chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which gives her tremendous influence in budget negotiations.

Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, is the Senate majority leader, a post that Rosenberg held before he was elected by Democrats last month to succeed former Senate President Therese Murray.

He also named Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton; Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, and Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, as assistant majority leaders. All three were tapped for committee chairmanships, as well.

A spokesman for Rosenberg said despite the top leadership posts going to senators from other parts of the state, lawmakers from the Merrimack Valley and North Shore will have a big voice.

"Each senator has significant responsibilities running their respective committees in their subject areas," said Pete Wilson. "Their knowledge and expertise in these areas will be invaluable to the business of the Senate this session."

Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, has retained his position as leader of the Senate's GOP minority. While Republicans remain vastly outnumbered in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, they are expected to have more clout with the state's new Republican governor, Charlie Baker.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo hasn't announced leadership and committee assignments for the two-year session. But the Winthrop Democrat has relied heavily on the North of Boston region's lawmakers in previous sessions - particularly to lead committees.

Rep. Brian Dempsey, for one, is widely expected to retain his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which controls the purse strings on the state's $36 billion budget. The Haverhill Democrat is viewed a contender for the House speaker's post if and when DeLeo steps down.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, is seeking another term as chairman of the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, which has the final word on legislation headed for a vote on the House floor.

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell declined to say when new committee assignments will be announced.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse. He can be reached at cwade@cnhi.com

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