State Legislature Invests in Municipal Police Training in Massachusetts

BOSTON – The state legislature passed An Act relative to the municipal police training fund and the bill was recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker. This legislation creates a new, dedicated funding stream to ensure that municipal police officers get all the specialized training they need without burdening already stretched local budgets.

The bill received strong bipartisan support from our area delegation, including Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Paul Brodeur, Mike Day, Paul Donato, Brad Jones, Steve Ultrino, and Donald Wong.

“Our municipal police departments have a very difficult job to do and officers must respond to many challenging situations every day, including individuals who may be in the midst of a mental health or substance use crisis,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “It is critical that we provide our police officers with the best possible training and this legislation will ensure that the necessary resources are available to do so.”

The new law creates a $2 car rental surcharge that will be deposited in a dedicated Municipal Police Training Fund. The surcharge is expected to generate approximately $8 million annually. Certain car rentals will be exempt from the surcharge, including rentals lasting less than 12 hours and ride-sharing services offered through companies like Uber and Lyft.

This new funding stream will be used to support basic training for new police recruits, as well as mandatory in-service training and other specialized training for police officers across the Commonwealth. It will reduce the fiscal burden that police training currently places on municipalities, and enable the expansion of specialized training for police officers.

“More than ever before, our police officers need specialized training and professional development to make sure that they are ready to meet the challenges of their daily work,” said Wakefield Chief of Police Richard Smith. “It’s great to see the Commonwealth creating a dedicated revenue stream for police training so that our officers can get the training they need, even when local budgets are limited.”

Senator Lewis Applauds Passage of the BRAVE Act, Improving Benefits & Services for Veterans, Active Military Members & Families

BOSTON — Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce the passage of the “BRAVE Act,” a new law that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military and their families.

Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts Legislature has consistently prioritized passage of legislation that supports our veterans.

“This comprehensive veteran’s legislation will assist veterans and their families with employment protections, housing assistance, burial expenses, court programs, and medical care, while also expanding honors and recognition for veterans and service members,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip.  “I’m proud that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in supporting and caring for our veterans.”

The bill grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes.

To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years.  It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.

The BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by the Commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to receive to adequately provide for a dignified funeral. It also exempts any veterans who receive annuities for service to their country from income calculations when applying for state programs or services.

The bill also:

  • Addresses emergency medical transportation reimbursements;
  • Revises the Veteran Court Diversion program;
  • Updates the veteran bonus program at the State Treasurer’s Office;
  • Designates the 5th day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day
  • Directs cities and towns to designate veteran specific parking spaces and city and town halls;
  • Provides veterans time off, with or without pay, at the discretion of the employer, for Memorial and Veterans Day so they can take part in ceremonies in their community;
  • Establishes several studies and analysis regarding higher education, incarcerated veterans, creditable service and National Guard recognition.

The BRAVE Act was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on August 9, 2018.

Senator Lewis Seeks Applicants for Citizens’ Legislative Seminar in October

BOSTON — Senator Jason Lewis announced that he is seeking nominees to participate in the 81st Citizens’ Legislative Seminar (CLS) to be held October 23 and October 24 at the State House in Boston.  CLS is a semi-annual educational seminar geared towards adults of all ages interested in learning more about state government and the legislative process.

“Civic engagement and education have never been more important than they are today,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who recently celebrated the passage of a major civics education bill in the State Legislature. “When community members educate themselves about government and get involved, it makes our towns, cities and state better places to live, work, and participate in community life.”

Established in 1976 through a collaborative effort of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the two-day seminar features engaging presentations by Senators and staff on aspects of the day-to-day experience of legislators in the Commonwealth. Topics will include the history and process of the Legislature, the State Budget, the parliamentary role of the Clerk of the Senate and the future of the Legislature. The Seminar will walk participants through the legislative process including how bills are introduced, debated, and passed.

The Citizens’ Legislative Seminar is part of the Massachusetts Senate’s ongoing effort to increase civic engagement and open up the democratic process. It’s the perfect chance to come and gain an insider’s perspective from elected officials and staff on how the legislature works.

The CLS culminates with a simulated legislative hearing and Senate session where participants are invited to use what they have learned and participate as “Senators” in the Senate Chamber in order to have a first-hand experience of the legislative process.

Interested residents of the 5th Middlesex District— Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield and Winchester— are invited to contact Senator Lewis’s office to register their interest, by phone at (617) 722-1206 and by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov. The deadline to be nominated by Senator Lewis is Wednesday, September 5. Seats are limited and nominations will be taken on a first come, first serve basis.

Economic Development Bill Signed into Law, Including Non-Compete Reforms Championed by Senator Jason Lewis

BOSTON — The state legislature enacted a sweeping economic development bill which was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker earlier this month. The bill includes long-sought reforms championed by Senator Jason Lewis to the enforcement of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts.

Non-compete agreements restrict where somebody can work, for a certain period of time, after leaving their current employer. Many people believe that they are unfair to workers and their families, and that they also hurt our economy by sapping innovation and restricting labor mobility. Originally limited mainly to the high tech industry, their usage in other industries, including the lower-wage service sector, has become more widespread in recent years.

“This economic development legislation will strengthen our economy for all workers, and I’m particularly pleased that it includes significant reforms to non-compete agreements,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “These contracts can prevent workers from earning a living and stifle our innovation economy. I greatly appreciate all the hard work that finally got this very important legislation across the finish line.”

The non-compete reforms include the outright ban on the enforcement of non-compete agreements against low-wage workers and workers who are laid off. In cases where non-competes will still be allowed, they will now be restricted in length and scope. Workers will have to be paid a portion of their previous salary during the period of time they are unable to work in their field, and they will also have other new protections.

In addition to non-compete reforms, the economic development bill authorizes grants to workforce training programs and public infrastructure projects across Massachusetts, including:

  • $75 million in competitive grants for technical education and workforce training programs
  • $250 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program that will support thousands of jobs rebuilding local roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and completing community revitalization projects
  • $500 million in local economic development aid to our cities and towns
  • $2.5 million to support the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Innovation Fund to strengthen capabilities to address cybersecurity threats.

The legislation also established a two-day sales tax holiday weekend, which took place on August 11 and 12 ahead of the back-to-school shopping season.

Governor Baker Signs into Law Comprehensive Bill to Combat Opioid Epidemic, With Support from Senator Jason Lewis

BOSTON –The Massachusetts legislature recently passed An Act for prevention and access to appropriate care and treatment of addiction and Governor Baker has signed the bill into law. This legislation builds upon earlier efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, and further establishes Massachusetts as a national leader in efforts to strengthen education, prevention, treatment, and addiction recovery.

“The passage of this vital legislation marks another step forward in addressing the devastating opioid epidemic in our communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health. “I’m grateful for the extensive input of patients, medical professionals, law enforcement, public health experts, community members and other stakeholders in the development of this legislation to ensure that it is as comprehensive and effective as possible in strengthening addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health earlier this year estimated there were 1,977 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state last year. This number is down 8 percent from the 2,155 deaths in 2016. To continue to reduce the number of overdose deaths and reduce opioid addiction rates, the legislation increases access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), expands prevention efforts, and addresses the high rates of co-occurring conditions of substance use disorder (SUD) and mental illness.

“Our communities are being deeply harmed by the opioid crisis and substance use disorder, and we all know a neighbor, friend or loved one who has been hurt, sometimes irreparably, by addiction,” said Paul Hammersley, City of Malden Addiction Recovery Resource Specialist. “We need to continue to take strong action on all fronts to fight back against this epidemic and equip people in Massachusetts with all available tools to accomplish that goal. I’m glad that the state legislature has taken this important step.”

Under this bill, someone who receives treatment in an emergency room for an opioid overdose will now have the opportunity to begin treatment for their substance use disorder before they leave the care of the emergency department. The bill requires that all emergency facilities have the capacity to initiate voluntary SUD treatment, including opioid agonist treatment, after treatment for overdose.

Opioid agonist treatment commonly includes the use of Buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, which is an evidence-based treatment that eases the symptoms of withdrawal and relieves opioid cravings. It can be administered as early as 8 to 24 hours after a patient’s last exposure to an opioid. This timetable allows treatment to begin in the emergency department soon after an overdose, when someone with a SUD may be most willing to consider treatment. They will also receive a direct referral to a provider in the community who can continue their treatment regimen after they return home.

The legislation also directs the Department of Public Health to issue a statewide standing order authorizing every pharmacy in the state to dispense naloxone (narcan), eliminating the current requirement that each pharmacy obtain an individual authorization, and making this life-saving medication even more widely available.

In addition, this legislation recognizes the important role that recovery coaches play in successful long-term addiction and mental illness treatment by creating a commission to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches as an important step toward formalizing the role that they play in the pathway to treatment and recovery.

The bill also creates a community-based Behavioral Health Promotion and Prevention Trust Fund to support and promote positive mental, emotional and behavioral health among children and young adults and to prevent substance use disorders among children and young adults.

To reduce fraud and drug diversion, and improve tracking and data collection, the bill requires that by 2020 all prescribers convert to electronic prescriptions for all controlled substance prescriptions.

Senator Lewis Champions Alzheimer’s & Dementia Bill Sent to Governor

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House and Senate Senate took historic steps to address the Alzheimer’s and dementia healthcare crisis in the Commonwealth voting to pass an Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth. The legislation, championed in the Senate by Senator Jason Lewis, marks major progress in supporting individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia, their families, and their caretakers.

“The Massachusetts Alzheimer’s and Dementia Act is critical for the hundreds of thousands of people in our state affected by these diseases,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health. “We all know a friend, neighbor or loved one who has been touched by Alzheimer’s or dementia, and it is clearer than ever that the growing healthcare crisis requires bold and compassionate response and mitigation.”

More than 130,000 people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease in Massachusetts—those individuals are being cared for by more than 337,000 family and friends. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2018 Massachusetts will spend more than $1.6 billion in Medicaid costs caring for people with Alzheimer’s.

In 2017, Senator Lewis convened a special legislative hearing on the Alzheimer’s and dementia healthcare crisis. Advocates from around Massachusetts testified about the real challenges produced by dementia. This hearing was a catalyst for legislative action in the House and the Senate, as elected officials learned more about devastating toll of Alzheimer’s: not just on those with the disease, but also on their families and caregivers. Nearly 60 percent of caregivers rate the emotional stress as high or very high, and about 40 percent suffer from depression.

“Alzheimer’s is the single largest unaddressed public health threat in the 21st century and we remain on the front lines of this crisis every day here in the Commonwealth,” shared Daniel Zotos, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy of the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter. “This legislation follows in the tradition of Massachusetts being a national leader in health care and we commend the Legislature for ensuring everyone impacted by Alzheimer’s gets the quality care and support they deserve.”

The legislation helps patients and their families receive better, more comprehensive care. Caregiving for people with Alzheimer’s is an energy- and time-intensive endeavor and when medical emergencies occur for unrelated conditions, people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias often fare poorly in the acute care setting. This bill helps ensure that caseworkers, medical providers and hospital administrators and staff better understand Alzheimer’s disease so that they can provide the best treatment possible for patients and clients who are brought to them.

An Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the Commonwealth supports individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their families by:

  • Tasking the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to develop and assess all state programs that address Alzheimer’s and create recommendations and implementation steps to address issues related to Alzheimer’s
  • Creating an advisory council for Alzheimer’s disease research & treatment
  • Requiring that all protective service caseworkers receive training on recognizing signs & symptoms of Alzheimer’s
  • Requiring that all doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurses who serve adult populations complete a one-time course of training on diagnosis, treatment and care of people with Alzheimer’s
  • Requiring physicians to report an initial diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to a member of a patient’s family (or a personal representative) and provide the family with information about understanding the diagnosis, creating care plans, and accessing medical and non-medical treatment options
  • Requiring hospitals to create and implement an operational plan for the recognition of patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia and treatment for those patients.

The bill now sits on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.

Massachusetts Senate Invests in Environmental Protection, with Senator Lewis’s Support

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate passed An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity. The legislation authorizes investment in climate change adaptation programs and improvements to existing climate resilient infrastructure.

Massachusetts has continually demonstrated leadership in the fight against global climate change, and the investments authorized in this legislation ensure that cities and towns across the Commonwealth are protected and that public spaces and infrastructure are improved and maintained for the public good.

“With this important legislation, we further demonstrate our commitment to fighting climate change and preserving and protecting our environment and infrastructure,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Massachusetts continues to lead in environmental stewardship, and the provisions of this bill will ensure that our state remains a desirable, healthy and safe place to work and live.

This bill authorizes the issuance of up to just under $2.2 billion in bonds for projects relating to climate change adaptation and the preservation and improvement of the Commonwealth’s existing environmental and energy assets. These authorizations include funding for projects such as: coastal infrastructure and resiliency improvements; dam and seawall projects; water and air quality protections; hazardous materials cleanup and response; river and wetland restoration programs; agricultural, economic and environmental sustainability and preservation; natural resource protection; improvements to coastal and inland waterways; improvements to roads, trails and bridges, and investment in and acquisition of property for trail purposes; tree planting on publicly-owned land; and protection of Article 97 land.

Senator Lewis successfully sponsored several amendments to secure $6 million in funding for projects in the 5th Middlesex District, including:

  • Lights, markers and other safety measures for the Tri-Community Greenway in Stoneham and Winchester
  • Improvements to Fellsmere Park, a historic park designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, in Malden
  • Upgrades to trails, signage and other improvements in the Middlesex Fells Reservation
  • Improvements to Hunt Park, Memorial Park, Washington Park, Symmonds Way and Sturges Park in Reading
  • Design for the proposed Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail
  • Dredging Winter Pond in Winchester in order to provide safety and environmental improvements
  • Dredging and remediation of First Pond at Mount Hood Golf Course in Melrose

These projects are subject to final approval and release of funds by the Baker administration.

“With every record setting blizzard, every flooded T station, and every endangered species, we experience the effects of climate change in real time,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “The legislation that we passed today represents the Massachusetts Senate’s commitment to climate preparedness and the preservation of the Commonwealth’s ecosystems and open spaces.”

Additionally, the bill requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to: (i) coordinate to strengthen resilience and prepare for the impacts of climate change; (ii) publish, every five years, an integrated state climate adaptation and hazard mitigation plan; (iii) establish frameworks for state agency and municipal vulnerability assessments that will be incorporated into the state plan; and (iv) implement the state plan and incorporate information learned from implementing the state plan in plan updates.

Photo credit: Melikamp, Middlesex Fells, between South and Middle Reservoirs, 10/25/09

With Lewis Support, Massachusetts Senate Passes Automatic Voter Registration

BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed An Act automatically registering eligible voters and enhancing safeguards against fraud. The legislation creates a framework in which eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote when receiving services from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassHealth, and other participating state agencies. The framework will be overseen and implemented by the Secretary of State.

“The passage of Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts will expand access to the ballot for eligible residents, invigorate civic engagement in our communities, and ultimately bolster the health of our democracy in Massachusetts by lowering barriers to the ballot and encouraging active participation,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “Automatic Voter Registration eliminates unnecessary obstacles for eligible voters, and will go a long way to involve the nearly 680,000 unregistered eligible voters in the state in the democratic process.”

“It should be the state’s burden to register voters – not yours,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “Long work hours and confusion about the registration process are barriers for many citizens. Thousands of Massachusetts citizens are eligible to vote today, but aren’t registered. Registering to vote must be as simple as possible, and this legislation implements a process where any eligible citizen receiving certain state services is automatically registered. Today is a major victory for voting rights and social justice.”

The legislation also bolsters voter-data security. It updates the requirements for transmission of voter registration affidavits and requires the Secretary of State to promulgate regulations to ensure registration is done through electronic transmission, with data security protocols and integration with the online portals.

The legislation increases penalties associated with voter fraud. It orders that whoever knowingly provides false information in connection with automatic voter registration shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years or both.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed to Health Care Reform Conference Committee

BOSTON- Senator Jason M. Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health, was named as a Senate member of the six-member conference committee dealing with proposed health care reforms. Senator Lewis, along with Democratic Senator James T. Welch, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and Republican Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr, will work to reconcile the differences between two pieces of health care reform legislation: one passed by the Senate in November and one passed by the House of Representatives this June.

“I’m pleased to be appointed to serve on this conference committee and look forward to working closely with my colleagues from the House and Senate,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The quality and affordability of healthcare impacts everybody in Massachusetts, and we have the opportunity with this important legislation to improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities, and contain healthcare costs.”

Senator Lewis also expressed his hope that the final bill will take steps to both rein in healthcare spending for private and public payers as well as reduce health disparities for Massachusetts residents. He highlighted the social determinants of health and the recognition that improving population health is fundamental to containing healthcare costs, reducing health disparities, and improving quality of life.

The House of Representatives appointed House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D- Quincy), Representative Jeffery N. Roy (D- Franklin), House Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, and Representative Randy hunt (R-Sandwich) to the House side of the conference committee.

The conferees will meet to negotiate a final version of the health care financing bill to be approved by both houses of the State Legislature.

Senate Passes Jason Lewis Bill to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction

BOSTON– Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate engrossed comprehensive legislation, sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis, to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts, responsible for more than $4 billion in annual health care costs to the Commonwealth. Youth are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction, nicotine has harmful health impacts on the developing brain, and 9 in 10 cigarette smokers begin using before age 18. The bill, An Act Protecting Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, raises the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to age 21; adds vaping products to the smoke free workplace law; and prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies.

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting and strengthening public health,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. “This comprehensive legislation will once again put the Commonwealth at the forefront of preventing youth addiction to tobacco and nicotine products, in order to improve health, save lives, and reduce healthcare costs.”

“Raising the legal sales age for tobacco is an incredible public health achievement that will save lives, prevent addiction and ensure a healthier future for generations of Massachusetts youth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler.  “This legislation protects young adults whose minds and bodies are still developing, and is a proven strategy for nicotine addiction prevention. I am proud that the Senate has voted to approve this bill.”

“We have come too far in our fight to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine to turn back now,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that young people do not use these products. I applaud the Senate for passing this important bill and helping prevent another generation from growing up addicted to tobacco and nicotine.”

While youth smoking has declined considerably in the last two decades, youth use of other addictive tobacco products like e-cigarettes is increasing sharply. While nicotine delivery products like e-cigarettes may sometimes help some nicotine-addicted adults to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, they present a significant new threat to the health and wellbeing of young people who have not previously used tobacco products.

To directly target youth use, this legislation increases the legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This is a proven and effective strategy to reduce youth tobacco use because it removes legally purchased tobacco products from high school social networks. The town of Needham achieved a 48% reduction in youth tobacco use after becoming the first town in Massachusetts to raise the legal sales age to 21. The Institute of Medicine projects that increasing the age from 18 to 21 will reduce overall tobacco use in a population by 12% – the equivalent of 150,000 Massachusetts tobacco users.

Meanwhile, youth use of e-cigarettes has grown alarmingly, becoming a pervasive presence in our high schools. The provisions in this bill build upon the regulations promulgated in 2016 by Attorney General Maura Healey, and ensure that the places that are tobacco free will also be vape free, including schools, restaurants and workplaces.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in this country, and 95 percent of all adult tobacco users start by the age of 21. If we can keep young Massachusetts residents from buying tobacco until they turn 21, we can save thousands of lives,” said Allyson Perron, Senior Director of Government Relations at the Massachusetts chapter of the American Heart Association, “any action we can take to stop the young from taking that first deadly puff should be ardently pursued. We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for taking this important step in improving the health and wellbeing of our young residents”.

This bill also prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies, a policy already in place in more than 160 of our cities and towns, and a practice already adopted by firms like CVS.

Other provisions included in the bill include new authority granted to the Department of Public Health to regulate new, emerging tobacco products; and language requiring the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the current tobacco cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth, and the Group Insurance Commission.

Many cities and towns have enacted policies to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction that go beyond current state and federal laws and regulations, creating a patchwork of different laws across the commonwealth that can confound retailers, distributors, consumers and public health officials. This legislation will provide a uniform statewide set of rules that protect youth and simplify the interaction between our state and local laws.

The bill now returns to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where the bill has formerly been engrossed, for enactment.