Column: A Bold Vision for a Clean Energy Future

Ahead of the Paris climate summit in late 2015, President Barack Obama said, “There’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate.” The resulting Paris Climate Agreement, signed by virtually every country in the world, is the strongest global response yet to the climate crisis facing our planet. Unfortunately, President Trump withdrew the United States from this agreement and our federal government has abdicated its responsibility to combat climate change. This responsibility has now fallen on states, cities, towns, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Massachusetts is stepping up to this challenge.

The Commonwealth has prioritized a cleaner, more sustainable energy future for years. The Global Warming Solutions Act, a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 2008, set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. We are currently on track to achieve the 2020 goal. In 2016, the state legislature passed An Act Relative to Energy Diversity, which will lead to significant new investments in offshore wind and hydroelectric energy as well as energy storage technology. Our efforts to combat climate change are reducing emissions, improving public health, catalyzing new technologies and businesses, and creating tens of thousands of new green economy jobs.

But we can and must do more. Throughout 2017, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, on which I serve, hosted ten public hearings across the Commonwealth, including one in our district. Throughout our “Massachusetts Clean Energy Future Tour” we heard feedback from concerned residents about the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels and speed up our transition to clean, renewable energy. You can read the report from the Tour at https://MALegislature.gov/CleanEnergyFuture. Also in 2017, the Senate passed legislation to establish a comprehensive adaptation management action plan (CAMP) in response to climate change. The plan would codify the goals and priorities for strengthening resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of the Commonwealth’s built and natural infrastructure, based on data about existing and projected climate change impacts, including temperature change, flooding, and sea level rise. This legislation is now pending before the House of Representatives.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change released An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future, a comprehensive bill that is the most ambitious effort yet to tackle climate change. This legislation includes numerous strategies, such as: increasing the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for utilities by 3% annually; a sizable additional offshore wind energy procurement; removing solar net metering caps and increasing access to solar incentive programs; prohibiting any “pipeline tax” on electric ratepayers and requiring utilities to repair gas leaks; increasing energy storage capabilities; requiring new approaches to grid planning that prioritize clean, local energy sources; and, for the first time, establishing a carbon pricing mechanism to reduce emissions in the transportation and building sectors of the economy.

I’m hopeful that the Senate will soon debate and pass this legislation. It will ensure that Massachusetts is at the forefront globally of efforts to fight climate change and promote a clean energy future.

Senator Jason Lewis to Host Community Conversation in Malden on the Future of Work

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold on our changing economy, evolving workforce needs, and innovative approaches to prepare today’s students and workers for the jobs of the future. Held in every community of the district, “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different timely topic at each forum, with ample opportunity for residents to share feedback and have their questions answered by experts on the given topic.

This upcoming event – Community Conversations: The Future of Work in the Commonwealth – will take place on Tuesday, March 13, at 6:00pm. The event will occur in the auditorium of the Beebe School, 401 Pleasant Street, Malden, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta and Malden Public Schools Superintendent John Oteri, with introductory remarks from Senator Lewis, State Representative Paul Brodeur, and Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur serve as the co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from experts offering insights on a range of labor and workforce development issues. Secretary Acosta will discuss state priorities in advancing workforce preparedness and skill development in the innovation economy while Superintendent Oteri will discuss new approaches to providing multiple pathways for students to the jobs of the future. There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees. The forum is co-sponsored by Mayor Gary Christenson, State Representatives Paul Brodeur, Paul Donato, and Steve Ultrino, the Metro North Regional Employment Board, and the Malden Teen Enrichment Center.

“I’m excited that this upcoming Community Conversation will address the critical issue of how we prepare our students and workers for good paying jobs of the future,” said Senator Lewis. “Closing the skills gap in order to grow our economy and lift up working families is dependent on innovative approaches in our high schools, colleges, and workforce development programs. I look forward to a very interesting conversation on these timely issues.”

“Community Conversations” forums have been held in all six communities of the 5th Middlesex district on topics including: public education; public transportation; small business and entrepreneurship; challenges facing senior citizens and caregivers; veterans’ issues; mental health; housing; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Senate Passes Bill Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Women’s Healthcare Access with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

Members of the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 2260, An Act Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women, also known as the “NASTY Women Act.”

The act repeals three archaic and unconstitutional laws that restrict a woman’s access to contraceptives and abortion. The antiquated laws include an 1800’s ban on all abortions, a state requirement that all non-emergent abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy be performed in a hospital, and a ban on contraception use for unmarried women.

“With constant threats to women’s health services coming from Washington, repealing these statutes is imperative,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “By passing this legislation, we are sending a message of support for women’s health and contraceptive access.”

The repeal of these three archaic statutes affirms that they will never be used again to penalize healthcare providers or people seeking contraception access or abortion care.

Column: Results of Constituent Feedback Survey and Priorities for 2018

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.

Column: The Holiday Spirit in Our Communities

During this time of year, I’m reminded of the words of the writer Oscar Wilde who said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” That is indeed the case with acts of volunteerism and charity.

Although it is during the holiday season that our thoughts often turn to how we can help our less fortunate neighbors, I am endlessly moved by the spirit of generosity and civic-mindedness that I see in our communities year-round.

Almost every day I interact with people in our communities who selflessly donate their time and money to support a myriad of worthy organizations and causes. Almost all of these individuals do so quietly and without any official recognition, taking simple satisfaction from the impact that their actions have on improving life for others in our communities. To me, each of these people is a local hero.

During the holiday season and year-round there are countless opportunities to volunteer in our communities — from donating food and stocking shelves at a food pantry, to being a mentor for an at-risk youth, to supporting efforts to end domestic violence, to supporting veterans in need.

Volunteering to serve in local government is another great way to make a difference. Municipal government relies heavily on volunteers from the community who can offer their time and unique expertise on various boards and committees. Often there are vacancies that need to be filled. I enthusiastically encourage you to reach out to your Town or City Hall to find out about such opportunities to get involved and play a greater role in your community.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?” If you want to discuss local volunteer or charitable opportunities, please feel free to contact my office at (617) 722-1206 or Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov and we would be happy to provide you with ideas and contact information for many worthy local organizations in our communities.

I wish you and your family a joyous holiday season and a very happy New Year.

Column: A Path Forward For Our Innovation Economy

In Massachusetts, we are home to some of the most transformative industries in the world. Leading companies in consumer technology, robotics, healthcare, biotechnology, and so many more have chosen to start here and thrive here.

That’s not by accident. Much of our success is thanks to the incredibly talented people we have in this state, and the parents and schools that teach them. We also have taken concrete steps to establish a fair, supportive atmosphere for innovative companies to succeed. This has meant more jobs, more innovation, and a strong economy.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if we don’t continue to adapt and change, we risk falling behind. Other states and nations are constantly looking for ways to establish themselves as a better option for that next great company, that next transformative industry.

The unfortunate reality is that in some areas, we are already behind. As markets have grown and outpaced the ways in which we regulate them, we have been too slow to adapt.

That’s why I have introduced legislation to address two core components of our innovation economy – our outdated non-compete law and our trade secrets law.

Most people are probably not familiar with non-compete agreements, at least until they are hired by an employer who requires one. Non-competes restrict where someone can work after leaving their job. There is little question that non-competes are unfair to workers and considerable evidence that they stifle innovation.

At a legislative hearing on my bill, we heard testimony from a man who has been at the same job for 29 years, largely because if he left, he wouldn’t be able to get a job in his field due to the strict non-compete agreement he signed nearly 30 years ago.

States that restrict non-competes have seen positive results in the number of patents issued, the number of start-ups, and jobs created. California took the significant step of eliminating non-competes, and it has become a major draw for entrepreneurs and new companies to start and grow there.

Whether you are an employee who may be subject to a non-compete, or just a resident of Massachusetts who benefits from increased jobs and innovation, we should all be concerned with the impact of non-compete agreements in our state. My bill would put us on par with California and Silicon Valley.

My bill also addresses another little known law that has a significant impact on innovation – our trade secrets act.

The trade secrets law is designed to protect the intellectual property of companies. Unfortunately, the current law allows Massachusetts companies to use our legal system as a battering ram – filing overly broad suits against competitors without having to prove what property was stolen with specificity. This grinds innovation to a halt, clogs our legal system, and sends a negative signal to businesses looking to put down roots in our state.

At the same legislative hearing, we heard from a local firm developing lifesaving therapies for children and adults with rare diseases. Recently, they have been subject to a trade secret lawsuit by a competitor that has held up the development of an important drug for which many families are praying.

The fact is we have fallen behind almost every other state on this issue. Massachusetts is only one of two states in the country that has not updated its trade secrets law since the invention of the Internet. That is unacceptable. Innovation should be encouraged by our laws, not hindered by them.

In the innovation economy, we are either stepping forward, or falling behind. These common sense updates to our non-compete and trade secrets laws will keep us on that forward path. We must act, and act now. If we do, it will be good news for our innovative companies, for our ability to produce transformative technologies and treatments, and for all of us who benefit from them.

Senate Passes Sweeping Healthcare Reform and Cost Containment Bill with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed sweeping healthcare reform legislation S. 2022, An Act Furthering Health Empowerment and Affordability by Leveraging Transformative Health Care. The HEALTH Act, which passed by a vote of 33-6, focuses on both short and long terms goals regarding how to strengthen our healthcare system by lowering costs, improving outcomes, and expanding access. The legislation is the result of an effort by the Special Senate Committee on Health Care Cost Containment and Reform to address the healthcare system by analyzing the best practices in other states and engaging stakeholders in a series of meetings over the last year. Senator Jason Lewis, who serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, serves on this Special Senate Committee, as well.

Healthcare costs are continuing to strain the budgets of working families, businesses, and municipal and state governments. The Senate has continued to push for reforms to the current system through diligent research, stakeholder engagement, and legislation. The working group of Senators, with logistical support from the Milbank Memorial Fund, spent the last year meeting with officials from seven states, healthcare experts, and stakeholders to examine best practices regarding lowering costs and improving outcomes.

The bill implements more effective care delivery such as telemedicine and mobile integrated health, in order to reduce emergency room visits and expand provider versatility, while also addressing price variation between larger hospitals and their smaller community hospital counterparts. A recent study by the University of California Davis Health system estimates that “by using telemedicine for clinical appointments and consultations, its patients avoided travel distances that totaled more than 5 million miles. Those patients also saved nearly nine years of travel time and about $3 million in travel costs.”

The bill aims to reduce hospital re-admissions and emergency department use through mobile integrated health and telemedicine as well as expanding access to behavioral health. The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission has estimated that 42 percent of all emergency department visits are avoidable.

The bill aims to tackle provider price variation, the variation between providers for similar procedures, by implementing a floor for providers while also setting a benchmark for hospital spending. If hospitals exceed the benchmark the state will implement fines or penalties on those institutions.

“This important legislation takes meaningful steps to both improve healthcare quality and outcomes, as well as contain costs,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “More deeply, this legislation furthers efforts to address the social determinants of health that are responsible for many health inequities in our system; and, innovative steps are taken to make prevention a more central component of our healthcare system, which will improve our quality-of-life and save money.”

This bill takes a number of important steps to further our efforts around prevention and wellness – to continue to move our healthcare system from a “sick care” system to a “well care” system, central to Senator Lewis’ approach to public health. The bill will further strengthen and encourage efforts to move our healthcare payment system away from fee-for-service and toward a system that rewards better health outcomes. It reauthorizes and updates the successful Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, and will provide new sources of funding for population health efforts that seek to prevent costly and preventable chronic health conditions. It expands access to basic preventative health services, including physical health, behavioral health, and oral health. And, it supports greater access to supportive housing services and other efforts to address the social determinants of health.

Post-acute care in an institutional setting and long term care and supports (LTSS) cost the state an estimated $4.7 billion in 2015, a major cost driver for MassHealth. The bill increases transition planning for patients into community settings and strengthening coordination between providers.

Pharmaceutical costs have been a driver of increased healthcare costs for a number of years. The Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) reported a 6.4 percent growth in pharmaceutical spending in 2016. Drug costs are making families choose between filling prescriptions and paying for other essentials like housing and food. The bill implements greater oversight and transparency in drug costs and encourages Massachusetts to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements, including a multistate drug purchasing consortium like other states, to lower costs and protect consumers.

The legislation encompasses the whole system from Medicaid to the commercial market, addresses price variation, increases price transparency for consumers, leverages better federal funding opportunities, and expands scope of practice for many practitioners including dental therapists, optometrists, podiatrists, and nurse anesthetists.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jason Lewis to Host Community Conversation in Winchester on Mental Health and Wellness

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold on challenges in our communities pertaining to mental health and wellness. Held in every community of the district, “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different topic at each forum, with ample opportunity for residents to share feedback and have their questions answered by experts on the given topic.

This upcoming event – Community Conversations: Strengthening Mental Health and Wellness in Our Schools and in Our Communities – will take place on Tuesday, December 5, at 6:30pm. The event will occur in the large meeting room at the Winchester Public Library, 80 Washington Street, Winchester, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from: Joan Mikula, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health; Dennis Mahoney, Principal at Winchester High School; and, Dr. Barry Ginsberg, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Lahey Health Behavioral Services.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from experts offering a variety of perspectives on a range of mental health and wellness issues. Commissioner Mikula will discuss state priorities in addressing mental health challenges; Principal Mahoney will highlight trends among our student-aged population; and, Dr. Ginsberg will offer the healthcare provider’s perspective in identifying key challenges. There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees. The forum is co-sponsored by State Senator Patricia Jehlen, State Representative Michael Day, the Winchester Coalition for a Safer Community, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Massachusetts (NAMI-MASS).

“Confronting challenges around mental health and wellness can be difficult conversations, but are absolutely vital conversations that must be had to safeguard public health in our communities,” noted Senator Lewis. “I look forward to discussing with this distinguished panel how we can identify and address the challenges we face in our schools and more broadly across our region. I am also eager to hear feedback on this from local residents, as the conversations I have directly with constituents across the district are the best source of information and guidance to help me do my job in the legislature.”

“Community Conversations” forums have been held in all six communities of the 5th Middlesex district on topics including: public education; public transportation; small business and entrepreneurship; challenges facing senior citizens and caregivers; veterans’ issues; housing; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives Public Health Award

Senator Jason Lewis gave the plenary address at the recent 50th annual conference of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association (MHOA), which represents over 600 local public health officials and associates across Massachusetts and serves as the leader, partner, and voice for local health departments in the Commonwealth. At the conference, the MHOA presented Senator Lewis with the Curtis M. Hilliard Award for Dedicated Service and Outstanding Achievement in Public Health, which is given annually to an individual who demonstrates concern for the advancement of public health programs to the benefit of the citizens of the Commonwealth and has assisted in the delivery of health programs.

Senator Jason Lewis’ Remarks to the Massachusetts Health Officers Association 50th Annual Conference
November 15, 2017 – As prepared for delivery

I’m delighted to be able to join you this morning and deeply honored to be kicking off the 50th Annual Conference of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association, the largest annual public health conference in New England!

When most people think of Paul Revere, what comes to mind no doubt is his historic ride from Boston to Concord on the eve of the American Revolution. We remember the famous words from the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “One, if by land, and two, if by sea.” But, I bet you — as public health officials — know something else about Paul Revere. Back in 1799, Paul Revere was named the first health officer of the City of Boston’s brand new Board of Health. This was the first public health department in the nation. Under Paul Revere’s leadership, officials ran an innovative public information campaign, including neighborhood meetings and signs on lampposts, to reduce deaths due to cholera, a very dangerous but highly preventable disease.

In the years since, public health has made innumerable contributions to improving the health and wellbeing of Americans. According to the CDC, public health is credited with adding 25 years to the life expectancy of Americans in the 20th century. The CDC has a top ten list of greatest public health achievements in the last century: immunizations; motor vehicle safety; workplace safety; control of infectious diseases; declines in deaths from heart disease and stroke; safer foods; healthier mothers and babies; family planning; fluoridation of drinking water; and reducing tobacco use. Here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts we have continued to lead the way on many of these great public health achievements.

Today, however, I know many of you are probably frustrated that public health, and particularly local public health, does not get the attention or the resources that it rightly deserves. According to the Blue Cross Foundation: 20% of our health is determined by our genetics, and of course there is not much we can do about that; another 20% of our health is determined by the access we have to quality healthcare services; and, the remaining 60% is determined by social, environmental, and behavioral factors. In other words, the social determinants of health are absolutely critical to health outcomes.

So Ben Franklin was right when he observed that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But, the reality today is that only a very small fraction of the total resources that we invest in health are actually spent on public health and prevention.

The good news is that I believe this is slowly starting to change. There is a growing recognition among policy makers, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders that a greater focus on population health is critical to reducing rates of preventable chronic diseases, which, in turn, would dramatically improve health outcomes and reduce high healthcare costs.

Take, for example, the epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. Since 1990, the percentage of Massachusetts residents living with diabetes has risen from 3.8% to almost 9%. According to the American Diabetes Association, the medical costs of treating a person with diabetes is 2-3 times greater than for somebody who does not suffer from the disease. It’s estimated we spend more than $3 billion annually in Massachusetts in direct medical costs to treat diabetes, and we also suffer an indirect cost of more than $1 billion in lost productivity. So, the need to take action is urgent, and we are starting to respond with innovative prevention programs in our communities — like the Diabetes Prevention Program that many YMCAs across the Commonwealth are now offering and that, increasingly, health insurers are actually willing to pay for.

As you may be aware, last week the state Senate debated and passed the most significant healthcare legislation on Beacon Hill in five years. The overarching goals of this sweeping legislation are to maintain our highest-in-the-nation access to health insurance coverage, improve quality of care for patients and health outcomes, and lower healthcare costs. In order to help accomplish these goals, the bill takes a number of important steps to further our efforts around prevention and wellness: it strengthens and accelerates efforts already underway to move our healthcare payment system away from fee-for-service and toward a system that rewards better health outcomes; it reauthorizes the groundbreaking Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, and provides new sources of funding for the public health investments made by the PWTF that seek to prevent costly and preventable chronic health conditions; it expands access to basic preventative health services, including physical health, behavioral health, and oral health; and, this legislation supports greater access to supportive housing services and other efforts to address the social determinants of health.

In other words, we are pursuing strategies that can start to move our healthcare system from a “sick care” system to a “well care” system — from a system where public health plays a supporting role to where public health is front and center. That, at least, is my vision, and I imagine it is also shared by many of you.

I would like to now provide you with a brief update on some other important public health issues on Beacon Hill.

As most of you are hopefully already aware, the Special Commission on Local and Regional Public Health is busy at work. This Commission was created as a result of legislation that I filed last legislative session and was signed into law by Governor Baker in 2016. The purpose of the Special Commission is to “assess the effectiveness and efficiency of municipal and regional public health systems and to make recommendations regarding how to strengthen the delivery of public health services and preventive measures in the Commonwealth.” This presents an excellent opportunity to understand the many responsibilities of our local boards of health and the challenges that you face in fulfilling these responsibilities. It is my hope that the findings and recommendations of the Special Commission, which are expected next year, will lead to further action from our state government. I will stop there since I expect that Commissioner Bharel will speak in more depth about the work of the Commission.

Next, let me address the opioid epidemic. Our communities are continuing to be ravaged by addiction and tragic overdose deaths, although it appears that efforts by state and local government, healthcare providers, law enforcement, and other stakeholders is finally starting to turn the tide. Some of the steps that the state legislature and the Baker administration have taken in recent years include: requiring expanded insurance coverage for addiction treatment; increasing funding for treatment and other services; strengthening the prescription monitoring program; improving prescriber training to reduce the number and quantity of opioid prescriptions and encourage the use of other pain management strategies; efforts to reduce stigma; and more. I believe we must also significantly step up our efforts around education and prevention, particularly for our young people.

Even though much of our focus, understandably, is on fighting the opioid epidemic, tobacco and nicotine products still remain the #1 preventable cause of illness and premature death in Massachusetts. Smoking rates among adults and teenagers are at their lowest levels in decades, thanks to sustained public health efforts over many years. However, Big Tobacco continues to innovate with new products and marketing on social media. I’m very concerned about the explosive growth in e-cigarettes, or vaping, among teenagers. According to the CDC, the percentage of high school students who reported using an e-cigarette at least once during the month the survey was taken was 4.5% in 2013. As of 2016, this number had increased to an astonishing 23.7%. Anecdotally, I have heard from some high schools in my district that the vaping rate may now exceed 40%. Many teens and their parents don’t understand the health harms of e-cigarettes and the risk of nicotine addiction. Thanks to the great work of our local boards of health, many cities and towns have taken strong steps to fight Big Tobacco, including raising the minimum legal sales age to 21 and regulating e-cigarettes. Along with Representative Paul McMurtry in the House, I have filed legislation in the Senate known as An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction. This bill would raise the legal sales age for all tobacco products to 21 statewide; prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in schools, workplaces, and wherever else smoking is not allowed; and ban the sale of tobacco products in all healthcare facilities including pharmacies. The bill passed the Senate last session by a vote of 32-2, and I’m hopeful that we will be successful in getting it signed into law this session.

Lastly, let me touch on what I know is a hot topic: marijuana. As you know, legalization of adult-use marijuana passed at the ballot last November. Then, earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill to fix many problems in the ballot question, and to strengthen public health and safety protections. The Cannabis Control Commission has been formed and is developing regulations that will govern the new marijuana industry in Massachusetts. At the same time, many cities and towns are deciding whether to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses within their borders. As public health experts and advocates in your respective communities, you have a very important role to play as we move forward. Right now, I would urge you to make sure that your voices are being heard by the Cannabis Control Commission so that local public health issues get the attention they deserve as regulations are being written. Just like with tobacco, local boards of health will play a critical role in pursuing policies that protect the public health, including: decisions about time, place, and manner of sale for marijuana products in those communities that don’t opt out; ensuring home growing is done safely; dealing with complaints about odor and other issues; and stepping up youth education and prevention efforts. I’m sure you are concerned about where you will get the resources to do this important work. The law that we passed in July directs some of the funding from marijuana taxes and licensing fees to support local public health and prevention efforts. Also, communities that don’t opt out will be able to charge a local excise tax of up to 3% on marijuana sales, and this revenue could be used for investments in local public health and safety. I imagine you have many questions, some of which I may be able to answer shortly during the Q&A period. But others will need to be answered over time as we move forward and figure things out together.

In closing, I want to encourage each of you to reach out to your own state legislators. Make sure they know who you are and the vitally important work that you do in local public health. Share with them your input and feedback. Make the case for increased investment in local public health. Here’s one example from my own experience of why this matters. Back in 2012 when I was serving as a State Representative, Winchester health director Jennifer Murphy approached me about an issue that I previously knew nothing about. She explained to me that it had become very difficult for municipal public works employees and seasonal workers to treat catch basins where mosquitoes breed since the Department of Agriculture had changed pesticide regulations in 2010. This was seriously hampering efforts to prevent the spread of West Nile virus. Together with David Henley of the East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project, we wrote and filed legislation to solve this problem. And, a few years later, the bill passed and was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick!

Thank you. And now, I’m eager to take your questions.

Senate Passes Bill to Establish Climate Change Adaptation Management Action Plan with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

Taking another step toward responsible long-term environmental management, the Massachusetts State Senate passed S.2196, a bill to establish a comprehensive adaptation management action plan (CAMP) in response to climate change.

A comprehensive adaptation management action plan would be established through a collaboration led by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Secretary of Public Safety and Security. The plan would codify for the Baker Administration and all future administrations the goals, priorities, and principles for resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of the Commonwealth’s built and natural infrastructure, based on data around existing and projected climate change impacts including temperature changes, drought, inland flooding, and sea level rise. The plan would go into effect in 2018 with an update every five years.

“The science behind climate change is well-established; but, while climate deniers slow responsible action to address climate change, our climate features more and more extreme weather incidents,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This legislation will empower our state government to be better prepared to address the challenges of an environmental future affected by climate change.”

Through the legislation, a CAMP Advisory Commission would be established through the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The committee would be charged with producing a report that documents the preparedness and vulnerabilities in the Commonwealth’s emergency response, energy, transportation, communications, health, and other systems. The group would also put forth a proposal that establishes and commits to sound management practices while compiling data on existing and projected sea-level rise using the best available science.

The legislation also establishes a regional, comprehensive climate change adaptation management plan grant program to aid in the development of regional adaptation plans. The program consists of financial assistance to municipalities for the development and implementation of comprehensive cost-effective adaptation management plans; technical planning guidance for adaptive municipalities through climate vulnerability assessments and adaptation strategy development; and, development of a definition of impacts by supporting municipalities conducting climate vulnerability assessments. The grants shall be used to advance efforts to adapt land use, zoning, infrastructure, policies, and programs to reduce the vulnerability of the built and natural environment to changing environmental conditions that are a result of climate change. The secretary of energy and environmental affairs shall also develop and implement an outreach and education program about climate change and its effects in low-income and urban areas.

The bill also creates a coastal buy-back program authorizing the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to acquire, by voluntary purchase, property abutting areas subject to tides or barrier beaches or located in velocity zones of flood plain areas that contain structures repeatedly damaged by severe weather. Prior to the acquisition of land under this section, the executive office shall, after consultation with the municipality in which the land is located, develop a conservation and recreation management plan and a coastal erosion mitigation and management plan.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.