I want to thank the many constituents who recently took the time to respond to our constituent feedback survey. Your responses regarding which issues are most important to you and your families provided very helpful input in setting our priorities for the remainder of this legislative session in 2018. The survey respondents included a good mix of constituents of different ages, different political affiliations, and from different communities across our district.
Controlling healthcare costs was the highest priority issue in the survey. This is not a surprise since high healthcare costs are a significant burden on families, seniors, businesses, and our state and local governments. As the Senate chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, I will continue to pursue strategies that will improve our healthcare system and lower costs, such as: focusing on prevention and wellness in order to reduce rates of costly, preventable chronic diseases; expanding the use of telehealth services; supporting our community hospitals and health centers; lowering rates of tobacco use and vaping among teens by raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21; encouraging healthier alternatives to sugary beverages for children; and other evidence-based measures that improve health outcomes and lower healthcare costs.
Improving mental health treatment and addressing opioid addiction was the next highest priority issue in the survey. Some of the most difficult and heartbreaking conversations I have with constituents concern a loved one who is struggling with a mental illness or addiction (or very often both). Tragically, we continue to lose young people every day to opioid overdoses. The legislature and Governor Baker have taken many steps in recent years to strengthen prevention, increase funding for treatment services, and improve recovery supports for mental health and addiction. However, we know that much more is needed. We are currently considering new legislation, including a bill recently filed by the Governor, that would take further steps, such as more resources for substance abuse education in schools, recovery coach credentialing, and better insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Strengthening civil rights protections for all was the third highest priority issue based on all the survey responses. I’m proud that Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to civil rights. In recent years, the legislature has passed important bills to ensure pay equity for women, protect pregnant workers, and prevent discrimination against transgender people. We hope to soon complete work on major criminal justice reforms that will reduce racial disparities, improve outcomes for people involved with the criminal justice system, and make our communities safer. I will also continue to advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees in our communities, and stand up to the misguided policies being pursued by the Trump administration.
The other top priority issues identified by survey respondents were: protecting the environment and addressing climate change; improving state government transparency and accountability; increasing support for our public schools; improving MBTA service, including the commuter rail; and, combatting income inequality. These are all issues which the legislature and Governor Baker have been working on, and we will strive to make further progress this year.
If you missed the opportunity to respond to our constituent feedback survey, we would still like to hear your feedback. Please contact my office at any time to share your thoughts on any state or local issue by calling (617) 722-1206 or by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov. Thanks again to everyone who responded to our constituent feedback survey.