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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Column: Reflecting on the Fourth of July

I’m sure many of us are excited for our Fourth of July weekend plans, whether it involves travel to see family, some relaxation time at the beach, or grilling in the backyard.  However, at the risk of sounding cliché, I urge you to take a few moments to reflect on the meaning behind America’s Independence Day.

As a child, I never imagined that one day I might have the honor of serving in the Massachusetts Senate.  The reason for that, as you may know, is that I grew up in South Africa.  At that time, in the 1970’s, South Africa was under the grip of the racist apartheid regime, the embodied antithesis to the notion of all men being created equal.

One of the events that had a big impact on me was the Soweto Uprising in 1976 when I was eight years old.  Black students were protesting against the imposition of the Afrikaans language in their schools.  Afrikaans was the language spoken by the white minority apartheid government.  I was too young to fully understand what was happening, but I did understand enough to know that children like me were being shot and killed by the police.

My family was fortunate enough to be able to leave South Africa and immigrate to this great country when I was twelve-years-old.  The memory of apartheid has since fueled my personal commitment to fight for human rights and social justice.

For hundreds of years, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stood as a beacon of progress, advancing equality and opportunity for all people.  Indeed, it was right here that the movement began to divest from companies that were profiting from the regime in South Africa, ultimately helping to bring about the end of apartheid.

Consider the Commonwealth’s long and storied heritage of advancing equal rights.  The first woman to legally vote in the American colonies was Lydia Taft of Uxbridge.  Court decisions paved the way for Massachusetts to be one of the first states to abolish slavery in the 1780’s.  Of course, we’re all well aware of the Commonwealth’s historic standing as the first state to recognize same-sex marriage a decade ago.

It has now been 238 years since our nation, and my adopted homeland, declared its independence from Great Britain.  Despite the passage of time, we have not lost sight of the prevailing value, immortalized in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.”  That notion has been the foundation for our state’s and our nation’s morality for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.

So, as you’re spending time with friends and family, perhaps relaxing on that beach or flipping a burger on your grill, take a moment to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy that have been borne out of our nation’s independence.  Further, be inspired by the freedom that was made possible by the sacrifices of many who came before us to become even more involved in your community, in whatever form that spirit of volunteerism and civic engagement may take.

Senator Jason Lewis’ Shark Finning Legislation Passes Senate, Heads to Governor’s Desk

Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce that his legislation to eliminate the cruel shark fin trade in the Commonwealth unanimously passed the Massachusetts Senate today.  Having passed the House of Representatives in May, the bill will move to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature.

The practice of “shark finning,” which is both morally repugnant and harmful to the health of our oceans,  is when a shark’s fins are sliced off, often while the shark is still alive, with the mutilated shark thrown back into the ocean, unable to swim and left to die.  The fins are primarily used to make shark fin soup.  While the practice of shark finning is prohibited by both federal and state law, the market for fins continues to promote the practice in foreign and international waters.  Currently, more than a dozen restaurants and businesses in Massachusetts sell shark fin soup and shark fin products.

Senator Lewis’ legislation, H. 4088: An Act relative to ocean ecology and shark protection, will ban the import, sale, trade, or possession of shark fins in Massachusetts, to be enforced by the Department of Marine Fisheries.

“Taking steps to diminish this unspeakably inhumane practice isn’t just a moral issue about preventing cruelty to animals,” noted Senator Lewis.  “This is also an important environmental and economic issue.  Healthy shark populations are vital for a functioning ecosystem in our oceans.  Removing Massachusetts from participating in the cruel shark fin trade is the right thing to do morally, environmentally, and economically.”

In addition to having the support of a wide coalition of organizations, including the New England Aquarium and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), one of the bill’s most visible advocates has been Sean Lesniak, a nine-year-old activist from Lowell who has been fascinated by sharks since he was three-years-old and originally conceived of the proposal while watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

“Watching Shark Week, I found out that sharks were getting finned, and I wanted to do something about it.” said Lesniak.

“We’re thrilled that the Massachusetts Legislature is continuing to play a leadership role in promoting ocean health by protecting this critically important species and restricting market access to reduce the demand for shark fins,” said Meghan Jeans, Director of Conservation for the New England Aquarium.

“The MSPCA was excited to work with a broad coalition of conservation and animal protection organizations on this bill, demonstrating such strong support that it passed on its first time before the Legislature,” said Kara Holmquist, Director of Advocacy for the MSPCA.

Similar bans already exist in several other states and territories, including Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, New York, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

Governor Patrick is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.

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Column: Earned Sick Time: Protecting Our Workers, Our Public Health, and Our Economy

Did you know that nearly one million working people in Massachusetts, representing nearly one-third of our workforce, risk losing their pay and even their jobs if they have to take a sick day to care for themselves or a sick child?  This lack of security harms families, the public health, and our economy.

According to a 2010 study by the University of Chicago, nearly one-quarter of workers report that they have been fired, suspended, or otherwise disciplined or threatened for taking time off work due to personal illness or to care for a sick family member.  One in six workers has actually been fired.

Meanwhile, countless workers trudge to work even when they are battling a contagious illness that can impact co-workers.  For instance, the Boston Globe reported on a study of employees at the Staples office supply chain that found that nearly 80% of workers “said they come to work even when sick, an increase of 20 percent from a year ago.”   Staples further noted that “the flu virus is responsible for approximately 70 million missed workdays and an estimated $10 billion in lost office productivity.”  Sick workers spreading colds, flus, and other illnesses to co-workers no doubt exacerbated that finding.

A 2012 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that earned sick time policies reduce employee turnover, contagion, and lost productivity, saving Massachusetts employers $26 million annually.  Reducing turnover also prevents the need of employers to spend time, resources, and money finding and training new workers to replace workers who had been denied sick time.

Earned sick time policies also appear to not harm overall employment, and are actually a positive for job growth.  San Francisco’s paid sick days law took effect in 2007.  Looking at the immediate effect, between 2006 and 2010, total employment in San Francisco increased by 3.5% while employment in five neighboring counties decreased by 3.4%.  In other words, earned sick time is good for business and our economy, in addition to being good for our families and our public health.

That’s why I’m proud to have been a lead sponsor on a bill before the Legislature to establish earned paid sick time.  The policy would provide urgently needed stability for many families.  Two-thirds of workers without earned sick time make less than $24,000 a year, meaning that the loss of even a few days of pay could equal, say, the grocery bill for the month.

Currently, the legislative effort to implement earned sick time is held up in committee.  In case this legislative effort stalls on Beacon Hill, we have the back-up of a ballot initiative that will appear before voters this November calling for earned sick time.  Like with the effort to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts, activists from the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures of voters across the Commonwealth to accomplish this goal, revealing the broad, grassroots support for this urgently needed policy specifically and support for stronger economic justice policies more broadly.

Finally, here is the ultimate reminder of why earned sick time will benefit you personally, whether or not you already receive sick days from your employer.  A major study of the restaurant industry found that nearly two-thirds of cooks and servers report having worked at their restaurant while ill.  I’m sure you don’t want to put your health at risk because a line cook feared lost pay or a lost job for simply taking a much-needed sick day.

Passing earned sick time will meet the moral imperatives of providing families with more security, improving our public health, and strengthening economic justice, while also meeting the economic imperatives of actually saving money and reducing turnover in the workplace.

Author’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series focusing on economic justice policies pertaining to legislation that is currently before the Massachusetts Legislature and that will appear before voters on the November ballot.  The first part was on raising the minimum wage in the Commonwealth.

Senator Jason Lewis Secures Funds for Malden Community Conference Center in Senate Bond Bill

Senator Jason Lewis is very pleased to announce that he was successful in securing funds for the Malden Community Conference Center project in the capital bond bill passed by the Senate this week.  The conference center would be constructed in concert with the planned minor league baseball park currently in the development stage.

“Local economic development is one of my highest priorities, and this project promises to be an economic boon to Malden,” said Senator Lewis.  “The project will bring more jobs to Malden, and the completed facility will benefit the entire region economically and recreationally.  It is yet another statement that Malden is one of Massachusetts’ premier cities.”

Senator Lewis’ success securing the inclusion of the Malden Community Conference Center project in the Senate’s version of the capital bond bill follows Representative Paul Donato’s success achieving inclusion of the project in the state House of Representative’s version of the bill.

“This plan is a great investment for the citizens not only of Malden, but also the surrounding communities,” said Representative Donato. “I am looking forward to the economic benefits as well as the positive impact the development will have on the community.”

The Senate and House will now forge a compromise bill for final passage before it moves to the Governor’s desk.

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Senator Jason Lewis Receives State Senate Committee Assignments

Senator Jason Lewis announced today that he has received his full slate of committee assignments for the remainder of 2014, following his election to the Massachusetts Senate in a special election earlier this year.

Earlier this year, shortly after his being sworn in to the Senate, Senator Lewis was named as Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service.  The Public Service Committee has purview over legislation pertaining to the salaries, civil service, and retirement of public employees, as well as collective bargaining for state employees and other public employees.

Senator Lewis has also been placed on: the Joint Committee on Public Health; the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse; the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security; and, the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.

“I am enthusiastic to have the opportunity to help shape public policy on these important issues at the committee level,” said Senator Lewis.  “I am particularly excited to have received a seat on the influential Public Health committee, where I’ll have the ability to continue my work on containing healthcare costs and promoting healthy communities and disease prevention.”

Senator Lewis also serves as co-Chair of the Legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus, which he helped found in 2011.  Prior to his election to the Senate, then-Rep. Lewis served as the House Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health.

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