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.

Column: Massachusetts Senate Hits the Road to Hear from Residents

The Massachusetts State Senate launched Commonwealth Conversations in 2015 in order to make the Senate as a body more responsive and accessible to residents all across Massachusetts.  Similar to the Community Conversations discussions that I have organized in our district, these forums provide invaluable opportunities for dialogue and sharing feedback and ideas.

The way the Commonwealth Conversations work is that Senators visit other regions of Massachusetts, beyond their individual districts, to hear from residents representing diverse geographies and demographics. For example, at a 2015 stop in Melrose, about one-third of the entire Senate was on hand to discuss a range of important local issues with municipal leaders.  The occasion provided my Senate colleagues with greater insight into the unique needs and challenges facing our communities.

The Senate is proud to now unveil Commonwealth Conversations 2017, the next step in our ongoing efforts to make our government more responsive and accessible to you. Senators will be listening carefully to what you have to say, and working hard to make sure that we carry your voices and your ideas back to Beacon Hill. You can visit the Commonwealth Conversations webpage online at https://malegislature.gov/CC/ to see the schedule and stay apprised of updates on the tour, which will be occurring over the next two and a half months. The visit to our region of the state will take place on April 11, with the exact schedule of stops occurring on that day to be finalized soon.

One of the exciting features of Commonwealth Conversations this year is that there will be a heightened focus on regional transportation needs. In collaboration with the Boston-based Barr Foundation, each regional tour stop will include a session dedicated specifically to transportation issues. These transportation discussions, dubbed “MassMoves,” will feature in-depth presentations on relevant local and regional transportation issues. For example, at the April 11 stop in our region, I expect that we will have a robust discussion about the reliability and performance of the Haverhill and Lowell commuter rail lines and the MBTA orange line and bus service.

Commonwealth Conversations is about hearing your feedback firsthand and being as responsive as possible to your concerns. As Senate President Stan Rosenberg noted: “Everyone from Western Mass to Cape Cod will have the opportunity to offer their ideas and hopes about where the direction of our Commonwealth should head by hearing firsthand about people’s dreams and struggles close to home.” I hope that many of you will be able to join us at one of our stops in our region on April 11.

Senator Jason Lewis Files Legislation on Economic Opportunity, Education, Healthcare

Preparing for the 2017-2018 legislative session, Senator Jason Lewis has filed more than 70 bills to be considered by the Massachusetts Legislature. The slate of bills covers a wide range of issues including economic opportunity, education, healthcare, energy, transportation, and more.  Senator Lewis also has filed more than two dozen additional “by request” bills, filed on behalf of constituents.

“It has been a privilege to work in the Legislature to advance priorities that are important to our communities, that help working families, and that improve our quality of life,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “I am eager to work with local leaders and my legislative colleagues to build on those successes, including through the slate of bills I have filed for the new legislative session.”

With a focus on economic development that creates opportunity for all, Senator Lewis was pleased to sponsor measures including bills that would: establish an Office of Massachusetts Main Streets within the Department of Housing and Economic Development in order to help promote and protect the downtown and commercial districts of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns; prohibit the use of non-competition agreements and adopt the Uniform Trade Secret Act in Massachusetts in order to promote greater innovation while still protecting trade secrets; and, establish a process for the drivers of transportation network companies to collectively bargain over hours of work, conditions of work, payments, safe driving practices, and other subjects.

Senator Lewis helped lead the effort to create the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) in order to update the Chapter 70 school finance formula, a critical step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for all our public schools.  His top legislative priority in the area of education is advancing a bill he filed to implement the recommendations made by the FBRC over a seven year period.

Emphasizing preventative health and cost containment, Senator Lewis sponsored a number of bills in the area of healthcare, including measures that would: protect youth from the health risks of nicotine addiction; promote healthier food options in vending machines in government buildings; prohibit insurers from using gender as a rating factor in disability insurance policies; and, reauthorize and expand the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund.  Senator Lewis served as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health during the 2015-2016 legislative session.

Recognizing gaps in infrastructure, energy, and transportation policy, Senator Lewis has filed measures that would: expand the criteria that the Energy Facilities Siting Board must use when reviewing projects to include health, environmental, and neighborhood impacts; implement strategies for reducing solid waste and increasing recycling in the Commonwealth; explore alternative funding sources to ensure safe and reliable transportation; protect motorists from excessive EZ-Pass fees and fines; and, create a regulatory framework to foster innovation and safety for self-driving cars.

In total, more than 2,000 bills were filed in the Senate, and more than 3,700 bills were filed in the House of Representatives.  The full slate of bills filed by Senator Lewis can be viewed at https://malegislature.gov/Legislators/Profile/jml0

 

 

PRIORITY LEGISLATION FILED BY SENATOR JASON LEWIS

 

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL

An Act relative to promoting local economic development (SD191)
Creates a new program to provide funding or technical assistance to municipalities or regions that maximize opportunities for economic development planning and growth.

An Act establishing the office of Massachusetts main streets (SD1179)
Establishes an Office of Massachusetts Main Streets within the Department of Housing and Economic Development in order to help promote and protect the downtown and commercial districts of the Commonwealth’s cities and towns.

An Act relative to excessive executive compensation (SD188)
Requires publicly-traded corporations to pay a higher corporate excise tax if the compensation of the CEO/highest paid employee is greater than 100 times that of the median worker’s compensation for that company.

An Act to protect trade secrets and eliminate non-compete agreements (SD189)
Prohibits the use of non-competition agreements and adopts the Uniform Trade Secret Act in Massachusetts in order to promote greater innovation while still protecting trade secrets.

An Act relative to marketing prioritized development sites (SD193)
Requires MOBD to create and maintain an online database of sites available for development in cities and towns across the Commonwealth

An Act establishing collective bargaining rights for TNC drivers (SD1218)
Establishes a process for the drivers of a transportation network company to collectively bargain over hours of work, conditions of work, payments, safe driving practices, and other subjects.

 

EDUCATION

An Act to implement the recommendations of the Chapter 70 foundation budget review commission (SD1524)
Implements the recommendations made by the bipartisan Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission over a seven year period.

An Act to require disclosure of conflicts of interest in academic institutions (SD232)
Ensures that academic institutions have adopted policies requiring disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interest that may arise in relationships between university staff and corporations or other outside entities.

 

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

An Act to protect youth from the health risks of tobacco and nicotine addiction (SD1353)
Raises the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products to 21, prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, and includes e-cigarette products in the state’s workplace smoking ban.

An Act to promote value-based insurance design in the Commonwealth (SD229)
Establishes a panel of experts to recommend high-value and cost-effective services, treatments, and prescription drugs that would not be subject to cost sharing under all fully-insured health plans, including MassHealth and commercial insurance.

An Act relative to expanding access to healthy food choices in vending machines on state property (SD1188)
Promotes healthier food options in vending machines by requiring that all foods and beverages sold in government buildings meet nutritional standards as promulgated by the DPH.

An Act to eliminate the tax deduction for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing (SD227)
Disallows pharmaceutical company direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs as a tax deduction under Massachusetts law for the purposes of calculating ordinary and necessary business expenses.

An Act advancing and expanding access to telemedicine services (SD1182)
Adopts federal standards to enable appropriate clinicians to provide telemedicine services within their licensure and scope of practice standards, and expands insurance coverage of telemedicine services.

An Act providing for equitable coverage in disability insurance policies (SD222)
Prohibits insurers from using gender as a rating factor in disability insurance policies.

An Act to increase access to healthcare in underserved areas of Massachusetts (SD803)
Expands opportunities for foreign-trained medical professionals to work in the Commonwealth, particularly in underserved areas of the state.

An Act to increase access to children’s mental health services in the community (SD587)
Expands insurance coverage for community and home-based behavioral health services for children and adolescents.

An Act to promote healthy alternatives to sugary drinks (SD1722)
Implements various strategies to reduce consumption of soda and other sugary beverages and improve children’s health, including a tiered per ounce sugary beverage tax, investment of new revenues in children’s health and wellness programs, warning labels on sugary beverage advertisements, and promotion of healthy alternatives like tap water.

An Act to promote public health through the prevention and wellness trust fund (SD1482)
Reauthorizes and expands the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, originally created as part of Chapter 224 (healthcare payment reform).

 

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

An Act to reduce solid waste, increase recycling and generate municipal cost savings (SD198)
Implements a number of strategies for reducing solid waste and increasing recycling in the Commonwealth, including setting specific municipal recycling performance targets, strengthening oversight and enforcement of waste bans, strengthening regulation of waste haulers, and improving the collection and reporting of solid waste data.

An Act relative to the Energy Facilities Siting Board (SD1182)
Expands the criteria that the Energy Facilities Siting Board must use when reviewing projects to include health, environmental and neighborhood impacts.

An Act relative to reasonable municipal expenses (SD 1185)
Enables cities and towns to receive reasonable reimbursement of legal and consulting expenses incurred when pursuing a case before the Energy Facilities Siting Board.

 

ANIMAL WELFARE

An Act relative to ivory and rhino horn trafficking (SD457)
Prohibits virtually all trade in ivory and rhino horn in the Commonwealth in order to help stop illegal poaching that is decimating elephant and rhino populations.

 

PUBLIC SAFETY

An Act relative to forfeiture reporting (SD458)
Requires public reporting about the assets and expenditures of special law enforcement trust funds, which are funded from civil asset forfeitures.

An Act relative to the collective bargaining rights for employees of the Committee on Public Counsel Services (SD25)
Gives employees of the Committee on Public Counsel Services the ability to organize and bargain over wages and working conditions.

An Act relative to police training (SD209)
Funds municipal police training by means of a small surcharge on auto insurance policies, and earmarks a portion of these funds for mental health training.

 

TRANSPORTATION

An Act to explore alternative funding sources to ensure safe and reliable transportation (SD217)
Creates a voluntary vehicle miles traveled pilot program to evaluate ways to protect data collected, ensure privacy, and vary pricing based on time of driving, type of road, proximity to transit, participation in carpooling, income of the driver, and vehicle fuel.

An Act to promote the safe integration of autonomous vehicles into the transportation system of the Commonwealth (SD1195)
Creates a regulatory framework to foster innovation and safety for self-driving cars, requires that these vehicles be zero emission (electric), implements a road usage pricing structure to replace lost gas tax revenues, and prevents “zombie” cars.

An Act to protect motorists from excessive EZ-Pass fees and fines (SD805)
Requires MassDOT to regularly review EZ-Pass account balances and make every effort to contact those account holders who have accrued fees and fines exceeding $100.

 

MARIJUANA

An Act relative to the regulatory authority for oversight of the recreational marijuana industry (SD1818)
Expands the size of the Cannabis Control Commission from 3 members to 5 members, ensures that these members possess the necessary experience and expertise to effectively carry out their regulatory responsibilities, and provides a role in making appointments for the Governor, Treasurer and Attorney General.

An Act strengthening local control over recreational marijuana businesses (SD1820)
Provides cities and towns with greater flexibility in regulating marijuana establishments within their communities, including the ability to ban all or some types of marijuana establishments with a majority vote of the appropriate legislative body (city council or town meeting).

An Act further regulating the manufacture and sale of certain commercial marijuana products (SD1821)
Places a two-year moratorium on the manufacture and sale of marijuana edibles and concentrates, and creates a process for safely introducing these products into the market.

An Act further regulating marijuana commercialization (SD1823)
Clarifies what types of marketing and advertising will be permitted by marijuana businesses, primarily allowing “opt-in” marketing.

An Act relative to the public safety risk of marijuana-impaired drivers (SD1824)
Expands the implied consent law to cover marijuana, directs the Secretary of Public Safety to investigate and recommend additional actions to hold impaired drivers accountable, including the possibility of establishing a legal standard for THC, and implements a public education campaign to warn drivers about the risks and consequences of drugged driving.

An Act relative to safe limits on home growing of marijuana (SD1826)
Permits home cultivation of up to 6 marijuana plants per residence, and authorizes local governments to enact reasonable by-laws or ordinances to protect public health and safety.

An Act relative to penalties for underage possession and use of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol (SD1827)
Provides consistent penalties for underage possession of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, emphasizing prevention and education rather than punishment.

An Act relative to youth marijuana use prevention and education (SD1829)
Implements public health campaigns to educate youth about the health harms and risks of marijuana use, and to encourage responsible adult use.

An Act relative to marijuana research, data collection, and best practices (SD1830)
Creates a comprehensive research program to track and monitor the social and economic impacts of marijuana legalization, beginning with a baseline study.

An Act relative to marijuana product packaging and labeling (SD1842)
Sets requirements for marijuana packaging and labeling to ensure accurate consumer information and safe consumption.

An Act relative to the expungement of convictions for marijuana possession (SD1836)
Authorizes the courts to expunge criminal records for past convictions of possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.

An Act relative to energy efficient marijuana cultivation (SD1838)
Ensures that commercial marijuana cultivation is energy efficient and conserves water.

Senator Jason Lewis Files Legislative Package to Ensure Safe and Effective Implementation of Legal Recreational Marijuana

Senator Jason Lewis, who served as Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana during the last legislative session, has filed a package of fourteen bills for the 2017-2018 legislative session pertaining to the safe and effective implementation of legal recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.

“The people of Massachusetts made their voices clear when they voted on November 8 to legalize recreational marijuana, and the legislature must respect the will of the people,” said Senator Lewis. “I am fully committed to moving forward as quickly as possible to responsibly and safely implement a legal recreational marijuana market in Massachusetts. I look forward to working collaboratively with my legislative colleagues, advocates, public safety and public health experts, state and local government officials, industry players, and all interested stakeholders to fulfill the will of the voters.”

In order to ensure that recreational marijuana legalization and commercialization moves forward responsibly, efficiently and safely, Senator Lewis has proposed bills to strengthen the law and address policy gaps that exist following the passage of Ballot Question 4. These bills do not curb in any way the legal possession and use of marijuana that already went into effect on December 15, 2016.

The full slate of legislation filed includes:
•    An act relative to the regulatory authority for oversight of the recreational marijuana industry: Expands the size of the commission tasked with licensing and oversight of the marijuana industry, and ensures that commission members possess the necessary experience and expertise to effectively carry out their responsibilities.
•    An act strengthening local control over recreational marijuana businesses: Provides cities and towns with greater flexibility in regulating marijuana establishments within their communities.
•    An act further regulating the manufacture and sale of certain commercial marijuana products: Places a two-year moratorium on the manufacture and sale of marijuana edibles and concentrates, and creates a process for safely introducing these products into the market.
•    An act further regulating marijuana commercialization: Clarifies what types of marketing and advertising will be permitted by marijuana businesses.
•    An act relative to the public safety risk of marijuana-impaired drivers: Expands the “implied consent” law to cover marijuana; directs the Secretary of Public Safety to investigate and recommend additional actions to hold impaired drivers accountable, including the possibility of establishing a legal standard for THC; and implements a public education campaign to warn drivers about the risks and consequences of drugged driving.
•    An act relative to safe limits on home growing of marijuana: Permits home cultivation of up to 6 marijuana plants per residence, and authorizes municipal governments to enact reasonable by-laws or ordinances to ensure that home growing does not exceed legal limits and does not negatively impact public health or safety.
•    An act relative to penalties for underage possession and use of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol: Emphasizes education and prevention rather than punishment to reduce youth consumption of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol.
•    An act relative to youth marijuana use prevention and education: Implements public health campaigns to educate youth about the health harms and risks of marijuana use, and to encourage responsible adult use.
•    An act relative to marijuana research, data collection, and best practices: Creates a comprehensive research program to track and monitor the social and economic impacts of marijuana legalization, beginning with a baseline study.
•    An act relative to marijuana product packaging and labeling: Sets requirements for marijuana packaging and labeling to ensure accurate consumer information and safe consumption.
•    An act relative to marijuana potency: Directs the Department of Public Health to investigate the health effects of high potency marijuana.
•    An act relative to hemp: Creates a regulatory structure for the licensing and cultivation of hemp.
•    An act relative to the expungement of convictions for marijuana possession: Enables individuals previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana to petition the court for expungement of their record.
•    An act relative to energy efficient marijuana cultivation: Directs the commission in collaboration with the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to promulgate regulations to ensure efficient energy and water use in marijuana cultivation.

Column: Priorities for the New Legislative Session

Earlier this month I was honored to be sworn in as State Senator for the 2017-2018 legislative session.  I’m eager to continue my advocacy on behalf of the residents of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and Winchester.

I believe that our communities are best served when our state lawmakers work in close partnership with residents, local businesses, community leaders, and local elected officials. Working together, we have been able to advance a number of important priorities to help strengthen our communities, and these efforts will serve as the foundation of my agenda for the new legislative session.

My first priority will continue to be promoting local economic development opportunities and securing resources for important needs in our communities. When the legislature tackles the state budget in the months ahead, I will focus on advocating for critical resources for our communities, including funding for our schools, local aid, elder services, veterans programs, healthcare, affordable housing, and other essential programs and services upon which our communities depend. I will also continue to focus on investments in local infrastructure and the revitalization of our downtown business districts, working collaboratively with our municipal leaders to address needs in these areas.

Another top priority will be pushing to implement the recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission. This bipartisan commission was created as a result of legislation I filed several years ago, and its recommendations are critical to updating and reforming the Massachusetts school funding formula. Our schools are struggling with rising healthcare, special education, and technology costs, and we must ensure that all our public schools receive adequate and equitable state funding to help meet these challenges.

Healthcare will continue to be a signature agenda item for me during this new legislative session. Our focus is on improving health and containing healthcare costs by strengthening prevention and public health efforts, reducing rates of preventable chronic diseases, and increasing funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment and recovery. We are facing great uncertainty regarding healthcare policy in Washington given the new administration and Congress, and we will need to be prepared to take action at the state level to protect access to high quality, affordable healthcare for all residents of Massachusetts.

Other key issues that I will focus on include: improving MBTA and commuter rail service; building on our past efforts to fight climate change and promote clean energy jobs and economic growth; and championing policies that can help poor and working families, such as paid family and medical leave and job training.

Your input and feedback are always encouraged. Please contact me anytime at (617) 722-1206 or Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov, visit us at the State House, or stop by Office Hours which we hold monthly across the district (you can find the schedule at www.SenatorJasonLewis.com). My staff and I will always be available to offer our assistance in any way we can.

I look forward to continuing our work together to strengthen our communities and our Commonwealth in the months and years ahead.