Senate Passes Bill for Long-Term Substance Abuse Recovery, with Senator Lewis’ Support

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation to increase opportunities for long-term substance abuse recovery in the Commonwealth by supporting a continuum of care and removing barriers that stand in the way of effective treatment, Senator Jason Lewis announced.

“Opiate addiction in the Commonwealth has reached crisis level, and we need to take aggressive steps to prevent and treat addiction,” noted Senator Lewis.  “With no community and no family immune to the reach of this epidemic, we must expand access to treatment.  I’m proud to support this important legislation that both improves access to treatment and eliminates obstacles to treatment.”

To curb the public health risk of Schedule II and III drugs, the bill requires the Drug Formulary Commission to prepare a drug formulary of appropriate substitutions, which must include abuse deterrent properties and consideration of cost and accessibility for consumers. Insurance carriers are required to cover abuse deterrent drugs listed on the formulary in the same manner that they cover non-abuse deterrent drugs and cannot impose additional cost burdens on consumers who receive abuse deterrent drugs.

If there is no abuse deterrent substitution available, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health can issue regulations related to the drug, including mandating that a physician review the patient’s prescription history, check the Prescription Monitoring Program, educate the patient on addiction, limit the quantity of pills and conduct a risk assessment before prescribing. The Commissioner is also authorized to schedule a substance as Schedule I for up to one year if it poses an imminent hazard to public safety and is not already listed in a different schedule.

The bill strengthens the Prescription Monitoring Program by requiring physicians to receive training on the Program before renewing their licenses. It also requires them to consult with the Program before writing a prescription on an annual basis for patients who receive ongoing treatment of a controlled substance and before writing a new or replacement prescription.

In the event that a death is caused by a controlled substance, the Chief Medical Examiner is required to file a report with the FDA’s MedWatch Program and the Department of Public Health and directs DPH to review the Program upon receiving a report.

The bill creates a commission to review prescription painkiller limitations by insurance carriers, including the system implemented by Blue Cross Blue Shield, and report recommendations and proposed legislation to the Legislature.

The bill also does the following to increase the quality of and access to treatment:

•    Removes prior authorization for Acute Treatment Services for all MassHealth Managed Care Entities and requires coverage of up to 15 days of Clinical Stabilization Services;
•    Removes prior authorization for Acute Treatment Services and Clinical Stabilization Services  for commercial insurers and requires coverage for a total of up to 21 days before engaging in utilization management activities;
•    Directs the Health Policy Commission, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, to determine standards for evidence-based, effective substance abuse treatment with high quality outcomes and create a certification process for providers, and once certified, insurance carriers are prohibited from requiring prior authorization for services offered by a certified provider; and,
•    Requires all insurance carriers to reimburse for substance abuse treatment services delivered by a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

In addition, it directs the Center for Health Information and Analysis to review the accessibility of substance abuse treatment and adequacy of insurance coverage and tasks the Health Policy Commission with recommending policies to ensure access and coverage for substance abuse treatment throughout the Commonwealth, as well as review denial rates for substance abuse treatment coverage by commercial insurers.

The bill will now go to the House for consideration.

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Senate Passes Bill to Protect Domestic Workers, with Senator Lewis’ Support

The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill to establish a bill of rights for domestic workers, establishing clear labor standards and protections in the workplace, Senator Jason Lewis announced.

“Making sure that working men and women are treated with respect and dignity is a value we all share,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “I’m proud to support these important protections for hard-working members of our community who don’t always have their voices heard.”

The bill defines domestic workers as individuals who do any of the following work: housekeeping, home management, nanny services, caretaking, laundering, cooking and providing home companion services. It also clarifies that domestic workers are eligible for government services and benefits, like unemployment insurance, workers compensation and minimum wage protections.

This bill establishes clear rules for sleeping, meal and rest periods, as well as requires that female domestic workers receive at like 8 weeks’ maternity leave if they are full-time employees.

To increase protections for domestic workers, the bill includes a privacy right to prevent employers from interfering with a worker’s personal communication and effects as well as housing protections in the event that a worker is terminated without cause. Domestic workers who work less than 16 hours per week are also protected from employer retaliation for making a wage complaint.

In addition, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is given jurisdiction over domestic workers and personal care attendants for sexual or other harassment claims. The Attorney General’s office is tasked with enforcing this domestic workers’ bill of rights, providing resources on its website for employers along with working with the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development to develop a multilingual outreach program to inform domestic workers about their rights and responsibilities.

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Senator Jason Lewis Supports Bill to Restore Minimum Wage

With the support of Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate on Thursday, May 1, passed a bill that restores the value of the minimum wage in Massachusetts by increasing the minimum wage to $11 by 2016 and tying future increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Northeast region. The bill also increases wages for tipped workers to 50 percent of the minimum wage.

Adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage in 1968 would be worth $10.72 per hour today. A full-time minimum wage worker in 1968 earned $21,400 in today’s dollars, about $5,400 dollars more than a full-time minimum wage worker earns today.

“People who work full-time to support themselves and their families shouldn’t have to just scrape by,” exclaimed Senator Lewis.  “It’s a matter of basic economic fairness.  It will also strengthen our local economies by putting more dollars in the pockets of families who will spend those dollars in their communities.”

Senator Lewis added, “Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is a critically important step to make sure that the buying power of low-income families doesn’t perpetually diminish over time.”

Under this bill, Massachusetts will join ten other states that currently index the minimum wage to inflation.  As a member of the House of Representatives earlier this year, Senator Lewis voted in favor of the House’s version of the minimum wage increase bill, but he was eager to support the Senate’s more robust version, as the House version did not include indexing the minimum wage to inflation.

The legislatures in four other states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) enacted bills to increase the minimum wage starting in 2014. In addition, New Jersey voters approved a Constitutional amendment this month to raise the minimum wage in 2014 and tie increases to cost of living.

Following passage in the Senate, the bill will move to a conference committee between the House and Senate to forge consensus between the two houses’ differing bills.

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Column: Working Together to Strengthen Our Communities

In the weeks since I was sworn in as your state senator, I have had the pleasure of meeting with many of you at events across the 5th Middlesex district.  I am eager to hear your ideas and concerns, and to continue the dialogue that we started on the campaign trail many months ago.

During my tenure in the state House of Representatives, and even before that during my many years in the private sector, I have found that communities are at their strongest when residents, local businesses, community leaders, municipal elected officials, and state legislators all work together as a team.  As such, I am excited about being your partner in working to help our cities and towns continue to grow and thrive.

It is my highest priority to maintain open lines of communication with you and to be fully engaged in every corner of the district.  Please contact my office anytime at (617) 722-1206 or e-mail me at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov with any questions or concerns; and, you are welcomed to visit our office in the State House, Room 511-B, if you’re in Boston.  You are also encouraged to attend our office hours in each of the six communities of the 5th Middlesex district, the times and locations for which are currently being finalized.  I want you to know that my staff and I will always be available to offer our assistance in any way we can.

We already have successes to report.  I am very pleased with the recent passage of the transportation bond bill, which includes nearly $15 Million in funding for transportation infrastructure projects directly benefiting the 5th Middlesex district.  Additionally, the legislation includes the Active Streets Certification Program, a proposal on which I led the charge.  This program is aimed at encouraging communities to routinely include complete street design elements in local road projects.  By providing accommodations for all modes of transportation, including walking and cycling, this program will promote increased physical activity and wellness.  Municipalities will be eligible to be certified as Active Streets communities after adopting certain complete streets policies and procedures.  Once certified, they will be eligible to receive additional Chapter 90 transportation funding from the state.

The next major item on the legislative agenda is the state budget, currently being debated in the House before moving to the Senate.  As I did while serving in the House for the past five years, I will continue to make state funding for our communities my top legislative priority as your Senator, including Chapter 70 education funds, Chapter 90 transportation funds, unrestricted local aid, the special education circuit breaker, and other essential programs and services upon which our communities depend.   I will also be a strong advocate for local economic development opportunities and infrastructure investments that improve the quality of life for us and our neighbors.

I look forward to working together, and welcome your input and feedback anytime!

Senator Jason Lewis’ Active Streets and Healthy Communities Initiative Included in Transportation Bill

State Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce that the transportation bond bill that Governor Deval Patrick signed into law, which will finance necessary repairs and improvements to the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure, included $50 million over five years to create an Active Streets Certification Program, originally proposed in Senator Lewis’ bill, An Act relative to active streets and healthy communities.

This program is aimed at encouraging cities and towns across Massachusetts to routinely include complete street design elements in local road projects.  By providing accommodations for all modes of transportation, including walking and cycling, this program will promote increased physical activity and wellness.  Municipalities will be eligible to be certified as Active Streets communities after adopting certain complete streets policies and procedures.  Once certified, they will be eligible to receive additional Chapter 90 transportation funding from the state.  The measure was developed in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the regional planning agency for the greater Boston area, promoting smart growth and regional collaboration.

“I’m thrilled that my Active Streets proposal was incorporated into the transportation legislation and signed into law,” said Senator Lewis.  “This new program will support the efforts of our communities to encourage alternative forms of transportation, particularly walking and biking, which improve health and quality of life in our neighborhoods and reduce traffic in our downtown areas.”

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State Senator Jason Lewis Sworn In by Governor Deval Patrick

Following his special election victory earlier this month, State Senator Jason Lewis was sworn in on Thursday, April 17, 2014, by Governor Deval Patrick, succeeding Congresswoman Katherine Clark in representing the 5th Middlesex district.

Joined by family and friends, Senator Lewis’ remarks upon being sworn in focused on growing up in South Africa during the racist apartheid regime, and how that life experience fueled his commitment to human rights and social justice. Senator Lewis noted that, for centuries, the Massachusetts Legislature “has been a beacon of progress; an institution that has advanced equality and opportunity for all people, not just in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but around the country and even around the world.”

“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,” reminded Senator Lewis.

In his remarks, Senator Lewis stressed his commitment to the cities and towns of the 5th Middlesex district, highlighting his focus on strengthening educational opportunities for every child, continuing the effort to keep healthcare affordable, keeping our communities safe and our environment healthy, and improving economic opportunity for all. Senator Lewis also took a moment to recognize and praise his two immediate predecessors representing the 5th Middlesex district: Democrat Katherine Clark and Republican Richard Tisei.

The 5th Middlesex district includes Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and precincts 1, 2, 3, and 8 of Winchester.

Senator Lewis’ remarks, as prepared, are below.

State Senator Jason Lewis’ Remarks upon Being Sworn In to the Massachusetts Senate
As Prepared – April 17, 2014

Thank you, Madam President. Thank you, Governor Patrick. Each of you has blazed a trail that has been an inspiration for me in my political career and for many, many other people.

If I had been asked as a child if I thought one day I might have the honor of serving in the Massachusetts Senate, I would probably have responded — where is Massachusetts? Growing up in South Africa in the 1970s, my world didn’t extend that far. At that time, South Africa was under the grip of the racist apartheid regime. 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 emigrate 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.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity I have had to serve in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and now in the Massachusetts Senate. The Great and General Court is an institution that for hundreds of years has been a beacon of progress; an institution that has advanced equality and opportunity for all people, not just in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but around the country and even around the world. 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.

Madam President, I am excited and eager to work with you and our colleagues to continue to move our communities and our Commonwealth forward. To strive for great schools for every child; quality, affordable healthcare for all; safe neighborhoods in every community; a living wage with decent benefits for working families; a healthy, sustainable environment; and economic development opportunities that help people build better lives for themselves and their children.

There are a number of people who made this day possible for me and I would like to thank them: my parents Alvan and Merle Lewis — were it not for their courage in leaving their native country to give their children a brighter future in America I would not be standing here today; my wife Susan who recently went back to school to get a Master’s in education and become a middle school science teacher — I’m so proud of you; my daughters Sophie and Jessie; my campaign team and our volunteers who called and canvassed voters from the beginning of the campaign right up until the polls closed at 8pm on April 1st — unfazed by the cold, the snow, or the rain; the local elected officials and community leaders who stood with us; my Legislative Aide, now Chief of Staff, Laura Richter, who has been my right hand – and my left hand – for the last four years: good luck running the Marathon on Monday; my colleagues in the House and Senate, with special appreciation to the Majority Leader; and, finally, thank you to my constituents in Stoneham and Winchester whom I have served since 2009 as well as my new constituents in Malden, Melrose, Reading, and Wakefield — it is the greatest honor of my life to represent you in the Massachusetts Senate.

I also want to recognize my distinguished predecessors in this Senate seat: now-Congresswoman Katherine Clark and former Minority Leader Richard Tisei.

In closing, thank you for the warm and gracious welcome to the Senate that has been extended to me. And, thank you to everyone who joined us today for this swearing-in ceremony. I’m so grateful for your support and friendship.

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