Senator Jason Lewis Named by Governor Baker to STEM Advisory Board

Governor Charlie Baker recently named 29 appointed and 10 ex officio members, including Senator Jason Lewis, to the Massachusetts STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Advisory Council. The STEM Advisory Council strives to expand access to quality STEM education for students across the Commonwealth.

Senator Lewis was named an ex officio member of the Council in his capacity as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.  Senator Lewis also serves as a member of the Joint Committee on Education.

The STEM Advisory Council began its work by undertaking an exploratory process to determine where the Council could have the most impact. The Council endorsed four areas on which to focus its work: expanding work-based learning opportunities in STEM fields; developing and implementing early college career pathways; broadening access to high-quality computer science and engineering education; and, strengthening and aligning the work of the Regional STEM Networks.

“STEM industries continue to grow rapidly across the Commonwealth and help strengthen our nation-leading innovation economy,” said Governor Baker. “In order for Massachusetts to continue capitalizing in STEM, it’s important we continue to expose our students to these industries and I look forward to the work the advisory council will take on this year.”

“Education in the STEM fields has proven to be a strong foundation for in-demand jobs and attractive careers,” said Senator Lewis.  “I look forward to working with colleagues on the STEM Advisory Council to explore opportunities to further expand educational opportunities for all students.”

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates that, during the next decade, U.S. industries will need one million more STEM graduates than the system is expected to produce.  Despite the need, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that just 1 in 6 high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in pursuing STEM higher education or careers.

Created by M.G.L. Chapter 6, Section 218, the Council brings together representatives from state agencies and the Legislature, as well as public and private sector partners involved with STEM planning and programming.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives “Friend of Nursing” Award from American Nurses Association-Massachusetts

Citing his strong support for the nursing profession and for safeguarding public health, the American Nurses Association-Massachusetts (ANA Mass) presented Senator Jason Lewis the “Friend of Nursing” award at their recent annual Awards Dinner and Conference.  ANA Mass’ mission is to advance the profession of nursing and the quality of patient care across the Commonwealth.

In presenting Senator Lewis with this award, ANA Mass President Cathleen Colleran stressed that Senator Lewis has been “very supportive of the issues that face the nursing practice at the State House” in his role as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, and also mentioned his work to ensure that public health is put ahead of industry profits in the legalization of commercial marijuana.

In his remarks upon receiving the award, Senator Lewis said that he is looking forward to continuing to work with ANA Mass on a number of important issues, including safe patient handling, reducing workplace violence, and modernizing the scope of practice for nurse practitioners. He added that “it is unacceptable that there are more injuries suffered by nurses in hospitals and other healthcare facilities than workers in any other employment setting. We must do more to ensure the safety and well-being of nurses in the Commonwealth.”

Senator Lewis served as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health during the 2015-2016 legislative session, and continues in that role during the current 2017-2018 session, along with the newly added role of Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

Column: Local Economic Development a Top Priority

Small businesses are routinely referred to as the backbone of our economy for good reason.  They are the economic engines of our communities’ Main Streets.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Massachusetts is home to 615,775 small businesses, which employ more than 1.4 million workers, about half of the state’s private workforce.  Small businesses make up 97.8% of all employers in the state.

Because the vitality of small businesses in the Commonwealth is so integral to our overall economic health, bolstering local economic growth and development has always been one of my highest priorities.  Among my legislative agenda for the new legislative session are three priority bills that I have filed to facilitate economic growth on our Main Streets and revitalize our downtowns.

An Act Relative to Promoting Local Economic Development would create a program to provide funding or other opportunities, such as technical assistance, to municipalities or regions that maximize opportunities for economic development planning and growth by meeting a series of criteria. These criteria would include a self-assessment of economic potential and the identification of unique strengths and assets. This bill borrows the conceptual structure of the Green Communities program, which provides funding opportunities for municipalities that reduce and improve their use of energy, and would be administered through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

An Act Relative to Marketing Prioritized Development Sites would require the Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD) to create and maintain a statewide searchable database of developable land and vacant sites, with listings submitted at no cost by local officials. This database would create a more comprehensive online marketing portal than currently exists for all locally prioritized sites across the state, giving each city and town the equal opportunity to submit prioritized development sites for inclusion.

An Act Establishing the Office of Massachusetts Main Streets would create an office within state government to operate as the principal agency for promoting and protecting the downtown and commercial districts of our cities and towns.  The Office of Massachusetts Main Streets would provide informational, marketing, and technical assistance, as well as coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to further enhance our downtown and commercial districts.

A vitally important role for state government is to be a supportive partner for municipal governments and the business community as we work to strengthen our local economies and create jobs.  In concert with one another, these bills would enhance the ability of our cities and towns to take advantage of all opportunities to economically grow and thrive through increased resources and more comprehensive planning, as well as provide support and guidance for entrepreneurs and small businesses in our communities.

I welcome your feedback on how we can better support our Main Streets and foster growth in our local economies.  Please visit my website at www.SenatorJasonLewis.com to share your thoughts, or contact my State House office anytime at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or at (617) 722-1206.

Senator Jason Lewis Named Arc of Massachusetts Legislator of the Year

Senator Jason Lewis is honored to announce that he has been named Legislator of the Year by The Arc of Massachusetts.  The mission of The Arc of Massachusetts, which was founded more than sixty years ago, is to enhance the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Senator Lewis received the award at a State House ceremony held by The Arc of Massachusetts in coordination with the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council.  The award was presented to Senator Lewis by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

In awarding Senator Lewis the Legislator of the Year award, advocates cited his efforts to help pass a new law to prohibit discrimination based on disability in access to organ transplantation, as well as his advocacy for expanding Operation House Call, a program to educate medical professionals on how to address the unique healthcare needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Through my work with statewide organizations like The Arc of Massachusetts and local advocates like Triangle, which is based in Malden, I have gained valuable insight on how state government can play a meaningful role to help enhance individuals’ independence and support their effort to maximize their potential and ability to play active roles in their communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “I’m honored to receive this award, and I look forward to continuing our work to improve the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families.”

Senator Lewis serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.  In the former role, he has had the opportunity to advocate on issues pertaining to the health and well-being of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In the latter role, to which he was recently appointed, he looks forward to supporting efforts to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to work independently in their communities.

Column: Alzheimer’s Disease is a Growing Public Health Crisis

Former President Ronald Reagan’s disclosure in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s disease helped to raise the profile of this terrible illness. Although we have made progress in the years since in understanding this disease, there is still no cure in sight and a looming public health crisis on the horizon.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and eventually all ability to function. More than five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease — including 120,000 in Massachusetts — and this number is expected to triple by 2050. Nearly one in three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. With 1,699 deaths due to Alzheimer’s in Massachusetts in 2012, it is the Commonwealth’s sixth leading cause of death, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. What is particularly alarming is that most people living with Alzheimer’s have never even been diagnosed or are not aware of their diagnosis.

The growing cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is a huge burden on our healthcare system. In 2015, the direct costs totaled $226 billion, with 50% of these costs borne by Medicare and another 18% borne by Medicaid. Today, nearly one in five Medicare dollars is spent on people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and this is projected to increase to one in every three dollars by 2050. At that point in time the total cost is expected to exceed $1 trillion annually (in 2015 dollars).

Alzheimer’s takes a devastating toll, not just on those with the disease but also on their families and caregivers. Nearly 60% of caregivers rate the emotional stress as high or very high, and about 40% suffer from depression.

With the leadership of Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs Alice Bonner, and advocates across the Commonwealth like the Alzheimer’s Association, we are slowly making progress in addressing Alzheimer’s in areas ranging from housing to transportation to public safety to caregiving. There are promising developments underway in making communities more “aging positive” and “dementia friendly” to better serve the needs of all elders, especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

We are also pursuing various legislative initiatives on Beacon Hill. For instance, the Public Health Committee, on which I serve as Senate Chair, favorably passed legislation last session to create the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Project under the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services. This initiative would coordinate all government programs and services to ensure that all available resources are being effectively leveraged, and we are doing everything possible to improve Alzheimer’s prevention, treatment, and caregiving supports. Though this legislation didn’t become law last session, it will continue to be one of my top priorities as Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee during the new legislative session.

Additionally, because of the alarmingly low rate of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease, legislation has been filed that would require further physician training on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Better training for non-specialists on how to recognize Alzheimer’s early and interact with patients who have cognitive impairments will improve the delivery of care across our healthcare system. Further, because elders with dementia are at a greater risk of abuse, legislation has been filed that would strengthen training for elder services workers to better prevent and detect abuse or self-neglect.

These efforts are all important and we must pursue them with greater vigor and urgency if we are to have a meaningful impact on addressing Alzheimer’s disease in Massachusetts.

Column: Controlling Healthcare Costs by Focusing on Prevention and Wellness

As Ben Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Prevention focuses on promoting healthy lifestyles and behaviors in order to avoid disease and illness. Prevention can help us stay healthy and enjoy a higher quality of life. By keeping people healthier, an ounce of prevention today can also avoid much larger healthcare expenditures later.

Take, for example, the growing epidemic of diabetes. Since 1990, the percentage of Massachusetts residents living with diabetes has risen from 3.8% to 7.2%. According to the American Diabetes Association, the medical cost of treating a person with diabetes is 2-3 times greater than for somebody who does not suffer from the disease. In Massachusetts, we now spend more than $3 billion each year in direct medical costs to treat diabetes, and also suffer an indirect cost of more than $1 billion in lost productivity.

Unfortunately, our healthcare system in Massachusetts and around the country is best described as a “sick care” system. We generally excel at taking care of people when they are injured or suffering from an illness or chronic health condition. But, we are not very good at helping people to stay healthy and out of the doctor’s office or hospital. Only a tiny fraction, roughly 3-4%, of the total resources we spend on healthcare are invested in public health and prevention. Moreover, while factors including a person’s genetics and access to care are important in health outcomes, the social determinants of health are actually far more significant in determining a person’s health status over time.

This is why, in 2012, I helped lead the effort to create a first-in-the-nation Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF). It was included as part of major healthcare payment reform legislation signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick. The PWTF funds community partnerships made up of municipal governments, healthcare providers, and local health and human service organizations, all working closely together to achieve a community-wide focus on prevention and wellness. The goal is to reduce rates of the most prevalent and preventable health conditions, address health disparities, and reduce healthcare costs.

Since its creation the PWTF has increased access to preventive services for nearly one million Massachusetts residents. A recently completed review of the program by Harvard Catalyst demonstrated very promising early results. For example, PWTF communities saw improvements in blood pressure that, if sustained over patients’ lifetimes, could result in 500 to 1,000 fewer heart attacks and strokes per million residents, and lead to 125 to 250 fewer deaths due to cardiovascular disease per million residents treated. The program has become a national model for how to build effective clinical-community linkages for sharing health data, improving health outcomes, and ultimately reducing healthcare costs.

However, without action by the state legislature, funding for the PWTF will sunset later this year. I have sponsored An act to promote public health through the prevention and wellness trust fund in the new legislative session to reauthorize and expand the PWTF. Working with my colleagues in the legislature and a broad coalition of community partners, led by the Massachusetts Public Health Association and Health Care For All, I’m hopeful that we will be successful in continuing this vital work to shift our healthcare system from a “sick care” system to a “well care” system.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed Senate Chair of Legislature’s Committees on Labor and Workforce Development, Public Health

Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce that he has been appointed by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to serve as the Senate Chair of two of the Legislature’s Joint Committees for the 2017-2018 legislative session, the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and the Committee on Public Health.

Senator Lewis looks forward to his new role as Senate Chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, whose purview covers labor laws, workers’ compensation, job training, and related employment issues. This leadership position will enable him to be a strong advocate for working families and the needs of local employers. Some of the important issues that will be considered by this committee include the minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, non-compete agreements, and efforts to strengthen job training and workforce development programs.

Senator Lewis is also pleased to continue in his role as Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, a leadership position he held during the 2015-2016 legislative session. Senator Lewis also serves as Senate co-Chair of the Prevention for Health Caucus, which he helped found in 2011. In these roles, he looks forward to continuing his efforts to strengthen public health and prevention, in order to improve health and lower healthcare costs.

“I’m excited to continue my work on promoting healthy communities and disease prevention, containing healthcare costs, and expanding resources for preventing and treating mental illness and substance abuse,” said Senator Lewis. “I’m also enthusiastic to have the opportunity to help shape public policy on a wide array of issues impacting our state’s workforce, employment opportunities, and economic security for working families.”

In addition, Senator Lewis will serve as the Senate Vice-Chair of the newly formed Marijuana Policy Committee. This position will enable him to continue his leadership in ensuring that marijuana legalization in Massachusetts is implemented effectively and safely.

He will also serve as a member of the following committees: Joint Committee on Education; Joint Committee on Health Care Financing; Joint Committee on Election Laws; and the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

Column: Time to Tackle Criminal Justice Reform in Massachusetts

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently gained attention in her advocacy for civil rights when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used arcane Senate rules to silence her during the debate over whether to confirm Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. She was silenced for reading Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter opposing Sessions’ confirmation to a federal judgeship. Many of the same issues for which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King advocated are still being debated today.

As a historical reminder, it was in Boston where Martin and Coretta met, he a doctoral candidate at Boston University and she a student at the New England Conservatory. It seems fitting that these two champions of civil rights would meet in Massachusetts, as our state enjoys a historical legacy of being at the forefront of civil rights and human rights. The first woman to legally vote in the American colonies was Lydia Taft of Uxbridge, back in 1756. Massachusetts was one of the first states to abolish slavery in the 1780s. In the middle of the 19th century, Horace Mann championed universal free public education for all children. And, of course, in recent years we were the first state to establish near universal access to healthcare and to recognize same-sex marriage.

Still, there is much progress yet to be made, particularly in the area of criminal justice reform. Consider this shocking statistic here in Massachusetts: people of color make up about 20% of our state’s population, yet almost 80% of those convicted of drug offenses are black or Hispanic, despite the fact that all races abuse drugs at roughly similar levels.

There are a number of criminal justice reform bills that have been introduced in the new legislative session on Beacon Hill that I’m proud to support. These reforms would help address racial injustice, reduce recidivism, improve public safety, lower the taxpayer-funded costs of incarceration, and significantly improve the quality of life in many of our most disadvantaged communities. These bills include:

•    Eliminating or scaling back lengthy and unfair mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
•    Raising the threshold for felony-level theft from $250 to $1,500, as the threshold in Massachusetts is currently the third lowest in the nation and hasn’t been raised in three decades. This low threshold has the effect of resulting in penalties far exceeding the crime.
•    Eliminating or lowering various fees, like the $65 per month that ex-prisoners have to pay in parole fees, and which many have great difficulty paying.
•    Reforming our bail system using evidence-based tools so people who pose little or no risk do not continue to be jailed simply because they cannot afford even small bail amounts.
•    Encouraging the diversion of non-violent defendants with substance abuse and/or mental illness to appropriate treatment programs rather than incarceration.
•    Investing in job training and other programs to assist ex-prisoners (and those at high risk of criminal behavior, particularly youth) in finding and retaining employment.

Massachusetts would hardly be the first state to implement these kinds of reforms. States such as Texas, Colorado, and Mississippi have taken steps in recent years to enact exactly these kinds of reforms. Criminal justice reform presents an excellent opportunity for bipartisan solutions.

As Dr. King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” I believe we must continue the work of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King by tackling today’s civil rights challenge of criminal justice reform.

Massachusetts Senate Responds to Presidential Executive Order

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution Thursday to condemn the recent Executive Order issued by President Donald J. Trump that bars entry to the United States for certain nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations. The resolution recognizes the unique importance of immigration to the history of Massachusetts since its founding, through the present.

The resolution highlights the Senate’s concerns with President Trump’s January 27th Executive Order on constitutional, moral, and policy grounds. The immigration edict has already impacted individuals arriving in Massachusetts via Logan International Airport, including two University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professors.

“I strongly condemn the executive order issued by President Trump that bars immigrants and refugees from certain countries from entering the United States,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “This action is unnecessary to protect our country, as well as cruel, shameful, and antithetical to American values. Here in Massachusetts we must continue to stand up for all immigrants and refugees, as they strengthen and enrich our Commonwealth and our communities.”

The full text of the resolution is below:

RESOLUTIONS IN RESPONSE TO THE JANUARY 27, 2017 PRESIDENTIAL EXECUTIVE ORDER.

WHEREAS, IMMIGRANTS FOUNDED THIS COMMONWEALTH NEARLY 4 CENTURIES AGO; AND

WHEREAS, THIS NATION AND THIS COMMONWEALTH ARE PROUD OF OUR STRONG TRADITION OF WELCOMING IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES TO OUR SHORES; AND

WHEREAS, OUR NATION AND THIS COMMONWEALTH HAVE STOOD AS A BEACON OF HOPE FOR REFUGEES FLEEING WAR, VIOLENCE AND PERSECUTION; AND

WHEREAS, IMMIGRANTS PLAY AN ESSENTIAL PART IN STRENGTHENING THE COMMUNITIES AND ENRICHING THE SOCIETY OF THIS NATION AND THIS COMMONWEALTH; AND

WHEREAS, IMPORTANT SECTORS OF THE COMMONWEALTH’S ECONOMY, INCLUDING HIGHER EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE AND INNOVATION, DEPEND HEAVILY ON IMMIGRANTS’ CONTRIBUTIONS; AND

WHEREAS, THE EXECUTIVE ORDER PROHIBITS MANY FOREIGN STUDENTS, WORKERS AND OTHER VISA HOLDERS FROM 7 TARGETED MAJORITY-MUSLIM NATIONS, INCLUDING MANY WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN VETTED AND DOCUMENTED, FROM ENTERING THE UNITED STATES FOR AT LEAST 90 DAYS, SUSPENDS THE U.S. REFUGEE ADMISSIONS PROGRAM FOR 120 DAYS AND RESUMES THE U.S. REFUGEE ADMISSIONS PROGRAM AFTER 120 DAYS ONLY FOR NATIONALS OF COUNTRIES AS DETERMINED JOINTLY BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE, THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE; AND

WHEREAS, THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION PROTECTS THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THIS EXECUTIVE ORDER PRIORITIZES THE ADMISSION OF REFUGEES BASED ON SPECIFIC RELIGIONS; AND

WHEREAS, MUCH OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE NATION’S AND THE COMMONWEALTH’S STRONG TRADITION OF WELCOMING IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES TO OUR SHORES, WHILE NOT CONCLUSIVELY CONTRIBUTING TO THE IMPORTANT GOAL OF KEEPING OUR RESIDENTS SAFE AND SECURE FROM TERRORISM; AND

WHEREAS, THE EXECUTIVE ORDER PRESENTS SERIOUS CONSTITUTIONAL AND OTHER LEGAL ISSUES OF DUE PROCESS, EQUAL PROTECTION AND DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RELIGION AND NATIONAL ORIGIN; NOW THEREFORE BE IT

RESOLVED, THAT THE MASSACHUSETTS SENATE:

  • REAFFIRMS THE COMMONWEALTH’S STRONG TRADITION OF WELCOMING IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES AND REJECTING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RACE, ETHNICITY, GENDER OR RELIGION;
  • CALLS ON PRESIDENT TRUMP TO RECONSIDER AND RESCIND THOSE PORTIONS OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER THAT INTERFERE WITH THE RIGHTS OF ALREADY DOCUMENTED STUDENTS, WORKERS, PERMANENT RESIDENTS AND OTHER VISITORS;
  • SUPPORTS THE LEGAL ACTIONS OF OUR ATTORNEY GENERAL AND OTHER PLAINTIFFS TO CONTEST THE LEGALITY OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER IN COURT; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED, THAT COPIES OF THESE RESOLUTIONS SHALL BE TRANSMITTED FORTHWITH BY THE CLERK OF THE SENATE TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THOSE MEMBERS OF CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH.

Senator Jason Lewis to Host Community Conversation with State Veterans’ Services Secretary

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold with Massachusetts’ Secretary of Veterans’ Services, Francisco Ureña.  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: Supporting Our Veterans in the Commonwealth – will take place on Wednesday, March 8, at 6:30pm.  The event will occur in the auditorium at Galvin Middle School, 525 Main Street, Wakefield, and is free and open to the public.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from one of our Commonwealth’s chief policy setters and advocates regarding landmark legislation passed and priorities for the future pertaining to our veteran population.  There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees.  The forum is sponsored by Senator Lewis in coordination with the Veterans’ Service Officers for each of the six communities of the 5th Middlesex Senate district: Malden (Kevin Jarvis), Melrose (Alicia Reddin), Reading (Kevin Bohmiller), Stoneham (Jim Devlin), Wakefield (Karen Burke), and Winchester (Al Wile).  There will also be a variety of service providers on hand with information regarding programs, services, and benefits for veterans and their families.

“Massachusetts has made veterans benefits a top priority in recent years, with the passage of VALOR I, VALOR II, and the HOME Act, and we want to make sure that our courageous veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much know about and have access to all of the benefits and programs to which they’re entitled,” noted Senator Lewis.  “I hope that this conversation offers veterans and other residents more in-depth knowledge of the services available and where our veterans can turn if and when challenges arise.  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; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.