Column: Common Sense Solutions to Gun Violence

Recently, the Massachusetts Senate passed thoughtful, comprehensive legislation addressing gun violence that can make a substantive difference for the better in our public health and public safety.  Impressively, a measure of consensus was achieved between gun safety advocates and gun rights activists, with both sides of the issue praising the final legislation.

I was proud to support this legislation.  Further, knowing that this is an issue that can generate significant passion, I was also very pleased that the vast majority of the calls and e-mails I received from constituents – on all sides of the issue – were thoughtful, reasonable, and respectful.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the key provisions of the bill, measures which strengthen oversight, address mental health issues, and generate better communication between schools and law enforcement, without infringing on Second Amendment rights.

The bill calls for stricter background checks, enhanced penalties, new gun-related crimes, increased protections in schools, among other provisions designed to overall ensure a safer Commonwealth.

The bill permits Massachusetts to join the National Instant Background Check System, allowing the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) to transmit to the U.S. Attorney General all the information that is required of the system.

The bill makes changes to tighten and secure regulations for authorized gun dealers and sales. It authorizes gun dealers to acquire criminal offender record information for all of their employees.   Further, the bill requires all secondary market gun sales to be conducted over a real-time web portal to be developed under DCJIS.

In a measure that should please those concerned with arbitrary or capricious infringement on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, the bill requires law enforcement to document in writing the rationale for denying a License to Carry (LTC).  This will provide any citizen who feels that he/she was wrongfully denied a LTC the opportunity to appeal the decision and receive due process.  The bill also eliminates the 90-day renewal process for both the Firearms Identification (FID) Card and LTC, and leaves unchanged existing FID permitting standards.

The bill removes pepper spray and mace from the Firearms Identification Card requirements for those ages 18 or older, but still requires persons between the ages of 15 and 18 to obtain a firearms identification card, with the permission of a parent or guardian, to possess pepper spray.

To support a secure and safe learning environment in our schools, the bill puts in place many provisions to tighten security and increase communication and training in events of emergency, including amending the medical emergency response plans schools are required to develop by requiring consultation with local police, fire, and emergency personnel.

In addition, the bill requires chiefs of police, in consultation with superintendents, to assign school resource officers to provide law enforcement and services to school districts, a measure that is subject to appropriation from the state Legislature for implementation.  School districts must also have access to two-way communication devices for communication with police and fire departments during emergencies.

Addressing a concern raised by individuals on all sides of the issue in the Commonwealth and across the country, the bill places an emphasis on expanding mental health awareness and treatment, implementing required training regarding suicide awareness and prevention to licensed school personnel.

The Senate and House, which previously passed its own gun safety legislation, will now work together to produce a final, compromise bill.  Ultimately, I’m confident that the measures in this legislation achieve the desired goal of making our communities safer without infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens.  Of course, no one piece of legislation will prevent all acts of violence from ever occurring, but I believe that this legislation represents true progress in reducing gun violence.

Additionally, I’m heartened that the process that generated the bill brought people together from all sides of the issue, rather than driving people further apart.  This serves as an example of what we can accomplish when we are willing to compromise and listen to one another to achieve common sense solutions.

Senator Jason Lewis Proud to Support Legislation to Protect Safe Access to Women’s Health Clinics

The Massachusetts Senate on Wednesday passed legislation to enhance public safety and remove barriers to access reproductive health care facilities in Massachusetts, Senator Jason Lewis announced.  This urgent legislative action follows the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down buffer zones across the nation, including the existing 35-foot buffer zone that was passed by the Legislature in 2007.

“Women should never have to fear for their safety simply for trying to access health care services,” said Senator Lewis.  “I will always vote to protect a woman’s right to choose, and I will always advocate for safe access to exercising that choice.  This legislation responsibly helps restore women’s privacy, respect, and safety when accessing health care while addressing First Amendment concerns.”

To enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to maintain public safety, the bill prohibits certain conduct outside reproductive health care facilities that threatens access and safety.  The bill authorizes law enforcement officials to order immediate withdrawal of individuals who have on that day substantially impeded access to a facility entrance or driveway.  After the order is issued, the individuals must remain at least twenty-five feet from the facility’s entrances and driveways for a maximum of eight hours. The 25-foot boundary must be clearly marked and the reflecting law must be posted.

The legislation also prohibits a person from intentionally injuring or intimidating, or attempting to do the same, a person trying to access or depart from a facility by force, physical act or threat of force.

The bill prohibits impeding a patient or staff member’s access to or departure from a facility with the intent to interfere with that person’s ability to obtain or provide health care services.  It also prohibits knowingly impeding an individual or vehicle’s access to or departure from a facility, as well as prohibiting recklessly interfering with the operation of a vehicle that attempts to enter, exit, or park at a facility.  Violations of any of these provisions can result in arrest and criminal charges.

In addition, the bill enhances the ability of private parties and the Attorney General to ensure compliance by filing a civil action in court.  The bill allows an affected individual, entity, or the Attorney General to bring a civil action in Superior Court seeking injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees.  The court may also award civil penalties.  Any violation of an injunction would constitute a criminal offense.  These provisions largely reflect the civil remedies available under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

The bill also amends the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA) to allow the Attorney General to obtain compensatory damages on behalf of an affected individual or entity, recover litigation costs and fees and seek civil penalties for the interference of constitutional rights.  The Attorney General currently has the ability through the existing MCRA to seek injunctions where an individual or group “interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion, or attempt to interfere by threats, intimidation or coercion” with the exercise of a protected right, including the right to access reproductive health care.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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Senator Jason Lewis Announces Flood Mitigation Funding for Wakefield

This week, the Massachusetts Senate passed an environmental bond bill; and, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce funding in the legislation directly benefitting the town of Wakefield.

Senator Lewis successfully secured in the Senate’s environmental bond bill $1 million for the creation of a flood management feasibility study for the Saugus River in Wakefield.

“This important funding will address a critically urgent need for Wakefield,” said Senator Lewis.  “Better flood preparation is a necessary investment that will benefit the families of Wakefield and stem environmental and economic problems in the future from preventable flooding.”

Another noteworthy feature of the environmental bond bill is that it establishes a Climate Change Adaptation Infrastructure Investment Fund for projects related to seawalls, jetties, revetments, retaining walls, and inland flood control, which will allow Massachusetts to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Additionally, the bill included a number of provisions to improve the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency and enhance our environment, including: $310 million for the accelerated energy program to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned facilities; $75.4 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for investment in water and air quality protection; $10 million for the Department of Energy and Resources’ Leading by Example Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts; $5 million for recreational trails matching grants; and, $3 million for oil or hazardous waste assessment, containment, cleanup, control, removal, or response.

With the state House of Representatives having passed their version of the environmental bond bill, the Legislature will now form a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two bills.

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Senator Jason Lewis Announces State Funds for Stone Zoo in Environmental Bill

This week, the Massachusetts Senate passed an environmental bond bill; and, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce a number of provisions in the legislation directly benefitting one of Stoneham’s major institutions and regional attractions.

Senator Lewis successfully secured in the Senate’s environmental bond bill $3 million for comprehensive renovations and deferred maintenance projects by Zoo New England, the non-profit that operates Stoneham’s Stone Zoo.

“Renovating one of our area’s most highly-visited institutions is an important investment for our local economy,” said Senator Lewis.  “These funds will help the Stone Zoo continue to be a major recreational and educational attraction for our region.”

Another noteworthy feature of the environmental bond bill is that it establishes a Climate Change Adaptation Infrastructure Investment Fund for projects related to seawalls, jetties, revetments, retaining walls, and inland flood control, which will allow Massachusetts to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Additionally, the bill included a number of provisions to improve the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency and enhance our environment, including: $310 million for the accelerated energy program to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned facilities; $75.4 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for investment in water and air quality protection; $10 million for the Department of Energy and Resources’ Leading by Example Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts; $5 million for recreational trails matching grants; and, $3 million for oil or hazardous waste assessment, containment, cleanup, control, removal, or response.

With the state House of Representatives having passed their version of the environmental bond bill, the Legislature will now form a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two bills.

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Senators Jason Lewis and Pat Jehlen Announce Flood Mitigation Funding for Winchester

This week, the Massachusetts Senate passed an environmental bond bill; and, Senators Jason Lewis and Pat Jehlen are pleased to announce funding in the legislation directly benefiting the town of Winchester.

Senators Lewis and Jehlen successfully secured in the Senate’s environmental bond bill $2.5 million for flood mitigation projects in the Aberjona River watershed in Winchester.  This funding is especially critical given Winchester’s history of five major flooding events since 1996 as a result of the Aberjona overflowing.  State and local officials have worked closely to make significant flood mitigation progress in Winchester over the last five years.  This additional state funding will help support the Town’s planned further flood mitigation investments.

“This important funding will address a critically urgent need for Winchester,” said Senator Lewis.  “Better flood preparation is a necessary investment that will benefit the families of Winchester and stem environmental and economic problems in the future from preventable flooding.”

“Flood mitigation projects for the town of Winchester will greatly benefit our community by preventing possible flooding damage and economic hardships by maintaining the existing watershed,” said Senator Jehlen.

Another noteworthy feature of the environmental bond bill is that it establishes a Climate Change Adaptation Infrastructure Investment Fund for projects related to seawalls, jetties, revetments, retaining walls, and inland flood control, which will allow Massachusetts to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Additionally, the bill included a number of provisions to improve the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency and enhance our environment, including: $310 million for the accelerated energy program to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned facilities; $75.4 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for investment in water and air quality protection; $10 million for the Department of Energy and Resources’ Leading by Example Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts; $5 million for recreational trails matching grants; and, $3 million for oil or hazardous waste assessment, containment, cleanup, control, removal, or response.

With the state House of Representatives having passed their version of the environmental bond bill, the Legislature will now form a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two bills.

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Senator Jason Lewis Announces Over $2 Million in Community Beautification Funds for Malden

The Massachusetts Senate passed an environmental bond bill this week; and, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce his successful advocacy for the inclusion of a number of provisions in the legislation directly benefitting the City of Malden.

Senator Lewis successfully secured in the Senate’s environmental bond bill: $1,200,000 for improvements and remediation to Pine Banks Park in Melrose and Malden; $625,000 for the development and maintenance of community gardens in Malden; and, $250,000 for the clean-up and replanting of the Fellsmere Pond area in Malden.

“These important initiatives will enhance the local environment in Malden and further strengthen Malden’s already robust community spirit,” said Senator Lewis.  “I’m very pleased that we were successful at including these worthwhile investments for the City of Malden in the bill.”

Another noteworthy feature of the environmental bond bill is that it establishes a Climate Change Adaptation Infrastructure Investment Fund for projects related to seawalls, jetties, revetments, retaining walls, and inland flood control, which will allow Massachusetts to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Additionally, the bill included a number of provisions to improve the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency and enhance our environment, including: $310 million for the accelerated energy program to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned facilities; $75.4 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for investment in water and air quality protection; $10 million for the Department of Energy and Resources’ Leading by Example Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts; $5 million for recreational trails matching grants; and, $3 million for oil or hazardous waste assessment, containment, cleanup, control, removal, or response.

With the state House of Representatives having passed their version of the environmental bond bill, the Legislature will now form a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two bills.

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Senator Jason Lewis Announces Funds for Pine Banks Park in Senate Environmental Bill

This week, the Massachusetts Senate passed an environmental bond bill; and, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce funding in the legislation directly benefitting the City of Melrose.

Senator Lewis successfully secured in the Senate’s environmental bond bill $1.2 million for improvements and remediation to Pine Banks Park in Melrose and Malden.

“Pine Banks Park has been a recreational center for the residents of Melrose and Malden for over a century,” said Senator Lewis.  “I’m very pleased that this worthwhile investment in Melrose’s outdoor recreation was included in the legislation.”

Further benefitting the greater Melrose area, the environmental bond bill also included $3 million for comprehensive renovations and deferred maintenance projects by Zoo New England, the non-profit that operates the Stone Zoo.

Another noteworthy feature of the environmental bond bill is that it establishes a Climate Change Adaptation Infrastructure Investment Fund for projects related to seawalls, jetties, revetments, retaining walls, and inland flood control, which will allow Massachusetts to better prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Additionally, the bill included a number of provisions to improve the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency and enhance our environment, including: $310 million for the accelerated energy program to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned facilities; $75.4 million for the Department of Environmental Protection for investment in water and air quality protection; $10 million for the Department of Energy and Resources’ Leading by Example Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts; $5 million for recreational trails matching grants; and, $3 million for oil or hazardous waste assessment, containment, cleanup, control, removal, or response.

With the state House of Representatives having passed their version of the environmental bond bill, the Legislature will now form a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two bills.

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Senator Jason Lewis Tours Stone Zoo, Meets Baby Gator “Louis”

State Senator Jason Lewis was introduced to Louis (no relation), the baby alligator, while touring the Stone Zoo on Friday and learning about the many programs and exhibits that the Zoo offers the community, including its alligator exhibit.

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Reading Delegation Announces $250,000 in Energy Efficiency Grants for Reading Municipal Light Department

State Senator Jason Lewis and State Representatives Bradley Jones and James Dwyer are pleased to announce that the Reading Municipal Light Department has been awarded $250,000 in grants by the Patrick Administration for energy efficiency programs for customers of municipal light plants (MLPs) to expand cost saving and environmental benefits.

The Reading Municipal Light Department will receive: $73,000 for a commercial and industrial LED program; $47,000 for a residential LED program; $31,250 each for LED streetlights in Reading, North Reading, Wilmington, and Lynnfield; and, $5,000 for administrative and public education costs.

“Improving energy efficiency is a critical and ongoing goal, both for lowering costs and conserving resources,” said Senator Lewis.  “These grants will have a profound impact on expanding energy efficiency in the greater Reading area and across Massachusetts.”

“The positive effect this grant will have on Reading’s continued commitment to energy efficiency will be profound,” said Representative Jones. “The town of Reading, and the Reading Municipal Light Department continue to find new and creative ways to promote energy efficiency both in the residential and commercial community. This continued commitment will have an extremely positive impact on our environment in the years to come.”

“Grants like these assist our municipalities through targeted, common sense investments,” said Representative Dwyer. “These grants will assist Reading Municipal Lighting Department in offering low-cost and efficient energy sources to our taxpayers.”

The grants, funded with proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) auction, will leverage more than $1.8 million in MLP-funded energy efficiency programs across the Commonwealth, save participants more than $1.2 million in energy costs and have projected annual energy savings of nearly 8.3 million kWh.  That’s enough electricity to power nearly 1,100 Massachusetts homes, and to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 705 cars from the road.  A portion of these grants will be used for municipal energy efficiency projects to reduce taxpayer-funded energy bills.

The Green Communities Act of 2008 requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to capture all cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities for their customers before looking to new generation options to meet electricity demand. This requirement does not extend to municipal light plants. The grants will broaden the reach of the Commonwealth’s energy efficiency leadership, offering customers of MLPs similar energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction benefits afforded to customers of investor-owned utilities.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has named Massachusetts the number one state for energy efficiency for three years running.  The clean energy revolution is yielding economic benefits, with 11.8 percent job growth in the last year.  Nearly 80,000 people are employed in the cleantech industry in Massachusetts.

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Senator Jason Lewis Announces FY15 State Budget Successes

Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission an Important Step toward More Adequate and Equitable Funding

With the Massachusetts Legislature having overwhelmingly passed the state budget for the 2015 fiscal year, State Senator Jason Lewis is proud to announce a number of successes.

Senator Lewis played a lead role in achieving one of his top priorities for the budget: inclusion of the proposal for a Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission, which will enable a careful and thorough examination of current educational needs and best practices, an important step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for our public schools.

“In recent years, strong fiscal management and consistently on-time and balanced budgets have led to one of the largest rainy day funds in the nation and the highest bond rating in our Commonwealth’s history,” said Senator Lewis.  “I’m pleased that this budget continues on that path.  I’m also pleased that provisions I championed, including strengthening our Chapter 70 education aid through the Foundation Budget Review Commission, were included in the budget.”

Senator Lewis also secured $250,000 for the Mass in Motion program that promotes opportunities for healthier eating and more active living in our communities, strengthening our public health.  Currently, Malden, Melrose, and Wakefield are Mass in Motion communities.

“The Mass in Motion program has been an invaluable resource for communities seeking to affect positive change regarding choices residents make to eat, feel, and live healthier,” said Kara Showers, Mass in Motion Grant Coordinator and Wake-Up Youth Coordinator for the City of Melrose & Town of Wakefield Health Departments.  “We thank Senator Lewis for his forward-thinking leadership in securing these important public health resources.  Together we can make the healthy choice the easy choice!”

Further, Senator Lewis helped achieve a $3.9 million appropriation for Zoo New England, the non-profit that operates Stoneham’s Stone Zoo.  John Linehan, President and CEO of Zoo New England, said, “Senator Lewis has worked tirelessly in both the House and the Senate to advance the Zoos.  We are incredibly grateful to him for all of his support, and for recognizing the value that the Zoos bring to community and the Commonwealth.”

Now that the Legislature has passed the FY15 budget, it moves to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature.

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