Senate Passes Extreme Risk Protection Order Legislation

The Massachusetts State Senate passed H.4517, An Act relative to firearms. This extreme risk protection order (ERPO) legislation would expand upon current Massachusetts gun laws by establishing a legal framework to prevent individuals, if deemed a threat to themselves or others, from accessing firearms.

“I’m proud that after a productive debate, the State Senate adopted Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation,” said State Senator Jason Lewis. “This legislation makes Massachusetts residents safer, creating a judicial process for the extremely difficult decisions that we ask law enforcement officers to make regarding individuals in crisis. By providing certainty to our police authorities and a speedy pathway for intervention, the ERPO policy stands to prevent gun violence while also respecting the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners.”

This legislation would close a gap in Massachusetts law to allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. In addition to potentially preventing an act of gun violence, ERPOs create safer circumstances for individuals to seek treatment or engage other resources to address the underlying causes of dangerous behaviors.

“A temporary, court-ordered firearm removal from an individual in crisis gives local law enforcement authorities increased certainty when tough decisions have to be made quickly,” said Wakefield Police Chief Richard Smith. “The proposed ERPO policy would help local police get a speedy decision from a judge, making us more confident that we’re appropriately exercising our discretion in difficult situations.”

Similar laws already exist in five other states. As of this year, 32 ERPO bills were being considered by 19 states’ legislatures as well as Washington D.C.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives, before moving to the Governor for final approval.

 

With Sen. Lewis, Senate Retail Task Force issues final report

Today, the Massachusetts Senate Task Force on Strengthening Local Retail unanimously approved its final report. The Task Force was charged with assessing the economic health of the Massachusetts retail sector, and identifying challenges and opportunities facing retail communities.

“I’m grateful for the policymakers, business owners and advocates who came together to work on this essential report,” said Senator Jason Lewis, a member of the task force. “These findings reaffirm our commitment to downtown revitalization, Main Street storefront restoration, and strong state-local partnerships for economic development. I look forward to continued advocacy for these priorities in the State Senate.”

The Task Force, chaired by Senator Michael Rodrigues (D- Westport) and Senator Vinny deMacedo (R- Plymouth), held a series of regional public meetings, hearing directly from retail employers and employees. The Task Force issued a set of findings, reflecting the testimony of retailers, information presented by industry experts, and an examination of current policies and mandates.

Members of the Task Force also included Senator Mike Barrett (D- Lexington), Senator Julian Cyr (D- Truro), Senator Kathleen O’Connor-Ives (D- Newburyport), and Senator Don Humason (R- Westfield).

The retailers appointed to the Task Force included Judith Herrell, owner of Herrell’s Ice Cream in Northampton; Peter Kavanaugh of La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries in Dartmouth; Barry S. Rotman, Board Chair of Rotmans Furniture in Worcester; Malcolm Sherman, a retail consultant with expertise in turning around struggling businesses; Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business; John Cahill of Maestranzi Bros.; and Christopher Connolly, President of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association.

The remaining appointees included Jim Carvalho, Political Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445; Harris Gruman, Executive Director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council; and Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Senator Jason Lewis Backs Passage of Fiscal Year 2019 Senate Budget

The Senate voted today on a $41.49 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, including targeted investments to create opportunities and ensure access to the tools that individuals, children and families need to succeed in the economy and in their communities. The budget invests in key areas related to education, local aid, health and human services, housing and tools for low income families, while limiting the use of one-time revenue sources and directing $88.5M to the state’s Stabilization Fund.

“The Senate budget adopted today fulfills the dual promises of opportunity and fairness that our Commonwealth makes to all residents,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “The Senate stands as a strong partner to our local municipalities, providing crucial funding for affordable healthcare, education, workforce development for young people, and support for working families. I’m proud that this budget lays a strong framework for investing in and supporting the people of Massachusetts and defending their civil rights, raising up the most vulnerable, and ultimately empowering them to succeed. I thank my colleagues for their collaboration, advocacy and partnership, and I look forward to the passage of the final FY19 budget later this year.”

The budget invests significantly in education for people of all ages and backgrounds and focuses in particular on elementary and secondary education, including $4.91B for the Chapter 70 education formula, its highest level ever. This funding allows for a minimum aid increase of $30 per pupil for every school district across the state and 100% effort reduction to bring all school districts to their target local contribution. The budget also continues to phase in the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) recommendations to more adequately fund school districts and ensure high quality education for all students. The Commission was created through Senator Lewis’s advocacy in the State Legislature over the last decade, and the unanimous adoption of the FBRC recommendations by the State Senate earlier this month marked a major victory for school funding reform advocates, led by Senator Lewis.

On education matters, the Senate budget includes record Chapter 70 funding; major investment in the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges; full funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, a longtime goal of special education advocates; substantial investment in reimbursements to school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools; and a new School Breakfast program and a policy change to ensure free and reduced-price breakfast is served after the start of the school day. Senator Lewis sponsored amendments to the budget which, when adopted, allocated key funding for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, and created a new registered apprenticeship program in the Commonwealth to provide post-high school pathways to well-paying middle class jobs for Massachusetts youth.

The budget continues Massachusetts’ leadership in providing health and human services, investing in health care for low income residents and vulnerable populations, services for people struggling with mental illness and substance misuse and resources for children, seniors, veterans and individuals with disabilities.

In line with the Senate’s continued efforts on health care cost containment, the budget provides MassHealth with new tools to tackle the rising cost of pharmaceutical drugs, setting an annual spending target and permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to pursue rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers. This policy change allows for savings without changing eligibility standards, reducing access to certain pharmaceuticals or compromising access to comprehensive health coverage.

Major new healthcare investments and innovations include a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention and recovery support services, including funding to open five new recovery centers; full funding for Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 services to help young people with disabilities transition to adulthood; and increasing salaries of providers of mental health services for both children and adults and improve access to this critical care. Senator Lewis was proud to champion and secure funding for five new School Based Health Centers in the state, which have been shown to reduce rates of student absenteeism, tardiness, STI transmission and teen pregnancy, while supporting the physical, social and emotional health of students. The senator’s advocacy for School Based Health Centers was inspired in part by the planned opening of a School Health Center at Malden High School later this year.

The budget invests in programs and advances policies to encourage self-sufficiency and economic mobility for low income families, providing them with the tools to secure their essential needs and develop skills to join the workforce. Policy changes include raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) state match to 30% of the federal credit, eliminating the failed state policy that denies Department of Transitional Assistance benefits to children conceived while the family was receiving assistance and increasing the clothing allowance to $350 per child to help families secure their basic needs.
The budget also continues to finance initiatives that connect Massachusetts workers with economic opportunities and boost thriving sectors of our economy. The Senate budget increases funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program by 30% over the previous year, which will allow access to the credit for nearly 450,000 Massachusetts families. Senator Lewis won major new funding for Low Income Tax Clinics to help families navigate the tax filing process and access resources like the EITC.

The Senate budget invests substantially in low income housing and homelessness services to increase access to quality, affordable housing, a necessary foundation for people seeking to climb the economic ladder. Services like Emergency Assistance Family Shelters, Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), rental subsidies for individuals with mental health challenges, and housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth promote a Commonwealth where every resident can be safe and healthy while pursuing a better life for themselves and their families, and Senator Lewis continues to champion affordable housing and support for the most vulnerable members of Massachusetts communities.

Recognizing that each community in the Commonwealth has unique assets and needs, the Senate budget directs significant investments to local aid and community services and empowers municipalities to provide vital education, public safety and infrastructure services. The budget includes over one billion dollars for unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges, as well as support for the statewide Board of library Commissioners, local Councils on Aging, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The Senate also adopted an amendment to protect the civil rights of immigrants and prevent state resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law or to establish a registry based on a person’s protected status.

A Conference Committee will now work out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2019 begins on July 1, 2018.

Senator Jason Lewis Champions Education Funding Reforms

Students, parents, and teachers filled the State House as the Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass a key education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old school funding formula, known as Chapter 70. An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century (S.2506) implements the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), which found that the funding formula drastically underestimates actual education costs in Massachusetts. As a result, school districts have struggled to balance their budgets and many have been forced to make deep cuts to educational programs and services.

For Senator Jason Lewis, passage of this legislation is pivotal progress on one of his top priorities since first being elected to the state legislature. When he previously served in the House of Representatives, Senator Lewis sponsored the legislation that created the FBRC, and he has long championed these necessary reforms to the state’s school finance system in order to provide adequate funding to our public schools.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate during debate on the bill, Senator Lewis said, “Massachusetts has long recognized that every child deserves a high quality education, but in recent years our school funding formula has been undermining this bedrock commitment. I’m very pleased that the Senate has passed this incredibly important legislation to implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission. This is a major step toward ensuring that every school district in the Commonwealth has the resources it needs, and every student can realize her full potential.”

Established by the 1993 Education Reform Act, the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget was designed to ensure that every Massachusetts student is provided a quality education. However, the formula has failed to keep up with rising fixed costs like health care and special education that have outpaced initial estimates. It also underestimated what it actually takes to educate English Language Learners (ELL) and students living in poverty.

The FBRC found these combined costs have led the Commonwealth to underestimate the statewide cost of funding K-12 public schools by as much as $1-2 billion every year. Local communities have too often had to shift resources from other high priorities to cover education costs, and many have struggled with contentious property tax overrides. The funding shortfall has also exacerbated the state’s achievement gap.

This legislation addresses the funding crisis by accurately projecting special education costs, modernizing the ELL and low-income components of the foundation budget formula, and realistically accounting for school districts’ actual healthcare costs. The bill also establishes a Data Advisory Task Force that will enable greater transparency to school-level expenditures and student outcomes in order to better inform future policymaking.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Massachusetts Senate Approves BRAVE Act for Veterans, with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the BRAVE Act, new legislation that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military, and their families. Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts Legislature has consistently provided a continuum of major veteran legislation to help with those who sacrifice the most for our freedoms.

“Massachusetts has a strong record of supporting veterans, service members, and their families, and this legislation will ensure that the Commonwealth continues to lead the nation on this front,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Many of the initiatives advanced in this bill come directly from recommendations offered by veterans themselves. The Senate is proud to meet its commitment to supporting those who have put the most on the line to defend our freedoms.”

On the recognition front, the legislation designates the 5th day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day, and directs cities and towns to designate reserved parking for veterans at all city and town halls.

The bill also grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes. To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years. It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.

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

The bill also strengthens services for veterans by: addressing emergency medical transportation reimbursements; revising Veteran Court Diversion programs; updating the veteran bonus program at the State Treasurer’s Office; and, providing several studies and analyses regarding higher education, incarcerated veterans, and National Guard recognition.

The BRAVE Act now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives Public Servant of the Year Award from Triangle, Inc.

Senator Jason Lewis was honored to receive a 2018 Public Servant of the Year Award from Triangle, Inc., at Triangle’s annual award ceremony and gala, which occurred Wednesday, May 2, at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. Established in 1971, Triangle empowers people with disabilities and their families to enjoy rich, fulfilling lives, offering employment, residential, and other support services.

Senator Lewis has been proud to advocate in the Legislature for programs and services aligned with Triangle’s mission, including successfully advocating for stronger budgetary support for Triangle’s School to Career program, which assists students and recent graduates aged 16-26 with career planning and internship and employment opportunities.

“Senator Jason Lewis has been a strong advocate for the disability community his entire career,” said Coleman Nee, CEO of Triangle, Inc., which is headquartered in Malden. “As Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, Senator Lewis has worked diligently to ensure that more career opportunities are available for persons with disabilities and that our governmental and commercial workforces are diverse and inclusive for all our citizens. It was an honor to present him with this award and we deeply appreciate his support and leadership.”

“Expanding opportunities for all members of our community is a central focus of my work in the legislature,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “It has been a privilege to work closely with the tremendous advocates at Triangle to enhance the independence and realize the potential of people with disabilities. I’m honored to receive the Public Servant of the Year Award.”

Senator Lewis received the Public Servant of the Year Award alongside co-awardees and colleagues Senator Joan Lovely of Salem, Representative Steve Ultrino of Malden, and Representative Dan Ryan of Charlestown.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Column: We Need to Invest More in Early Childhood Education

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In our society we typically think that children’s formal education should begin at the age of five when they enter kindergarten. But, decades of research have now convincingly demonstrated the importance and value of early childhood education for much younger children. We need to think differently about how to ensure that all children – regardless of their family’s income – can access high-quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood programs in their community.

Early childhood education produces short- and long-term positive effects on children’s cognitive and social development. In fact, it is estimated that expanding early learning initiatives overall would provide benefits to our society of up to $9 for every $1 spent.

According to a 2017 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States falls significantly behind other developed countries when it comes to enrollment rates of 3- and 4-year-olds in pre-school programs.

Even here in Massachusetts, where we pride ourselves on our commitment to education, we are not doing enough to prepare our youngest children for academic and professional success in life. Approximately 43% of third graders in the Commonwealth cannot read at grade level. The third grade marker is viewed as a key indicator of future performance in school and beyond. Universal access to quality early education is critical to addressing this persistent achievement gap in our schools. The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care has found that low-income children who participate in high quality early education programs are 40% less likely to be held back or require special education services, 30% more likely to graduate from high school, and twice as likely to go to college. That is an astounding difference.

Unfortunately, many families in Massachusetts today cannot afford to send their children to pre-school, and financial assistance to aid these families is insufficient. The state legislature has been increasing funding in the past few years to help more low-income families enroll their children in quality childcare and early education programs. The legislature has also focused on increasing pay for early childhood educators, who are typically paid much less than K-12 teachers. But we must do more.

To address these urgent shortcomings, I am proud to be a co-sponsor of S. 221, An Act Relative to Universal Pre-Kindergarten Access. This important legislation recognizes that children age three and four should be part of our core public education system by adding them to their local school districts’ Chapter 70 enrollment (Chapter 70 is the K-12 school funding formula in Massachusetts). Implementation would initially focus on the highest-need communities and broaden to statewide coverage over five years.

To provide the necessary funding, I support passage of the Fair Share Amendment, also known as the millionaire’s tax. This proposal would assess an additional 4% state income tax on annual household income greater than $1 million. The threshold would be adjusted annually for inflation to ensure that only those residents who can afford to pay a bit more in taxes would be required to do so. The proceeds from the Fair Share Amendment could only be used to fund education and transportation. Thus, expanding access to affordable early education could be one of the uses for these new funds.

Ensuring that all families and all children in Massachusetts have access to high quality early education would be a wise investment that would help close our persistent achievement gap, maximize the potential of our youth, and ultimately strengthen Massachusetts’ economy.

Senate Passes Supplemental Budget to Boost Funding for State and Local Services, with Senator Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed a $156.4 million supplemental budget to cover increased caseloads and time sensitive deficiencies in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, including additional funding for local school districts’ special education costs and charter school reimbursement funds and programs for Massachusetts children and families.

Senator Jason Lewis highlighted a number of key priorities for local communities included in the supplemental budget including $12.5 million for the Special Education Circuit Breaker, increasing reimbursements to school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities, as well as $4 million for charter school reimbursement funds, further supporting our school districts’ budgetary bottom lines.

Further, Senator Lewis, who serves as Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, was pleased at the inclusion of funds supporting the health and wellness of our communities, especially children, including: $2.2M for the Healthy Incentives Program to increase access to nutritious foods for low-income residents; and, $1M to support the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund, which invests in community-based efforts to enhance disease prevention and has improved the health of hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth residents.

“This supplemental budget includes much needed investments in public transportation, public education, and public health, three vital components to our overall quality of life and economic well-being,” said Senator Lewis. “This funding will support our schools, our communities, and vulnerable populations in the Commonwealth.”

Recognizing the financial challenges Regional Transit Authorities across the state face in providing reliable, affordable transportation, the supplemental budget invests an additional $4 million in these services.

Additional critical investments include: $25.6M for Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) grants; $19.3M for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters; $15.5M for recently ratified collective bargaining agreements; $5.3M for veterans’ benefits; $2.5M for services for hurricane evacuees residing in Massachusetts; $2M for DCF Family Resource Centers to support increased demand for services from hurricane evacuees; and, $150K for the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Credit Protection Bill to Protect Consumers in the Wake of Equifax Breach, with Senator Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts State Senate passed legislation to protect the personal information of consumers in the case of data breaches, like the one seen at Equifax, and provide free credit freezes for all consumers.

The bill, S.2455, An Act relative to consumer protection from security breaches, helps all consumers protect their sensitive information before, during, and after a security breach in several ways: providing for free credit freezes for all consumers and creating an online “one-stop shop” portal so that consumers can freeze and unfreeze their credit at all three main bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) in one place; providing five years of free credit monitoring for consumers whose information was part of a credit reporting agency data breach; and, empowering consumers to know when and why their consumer reports are being pulled by requiring that any company attempting to pull a consumer’s report must first obtain consent.

“The Equifax breach left many consumers concerned for their financial safety and illuminated gaps in how we can protect against the effects of a breach of this nature,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The legislation creates stronger protections against identity theft and data breaches for all consumers in the Commonwealth to better safeguard our financial transactions and give people more control over their personal data.”

The legislation allows increased oversight from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which recently filed a lawsuit against Equifax. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation will create a process requiring companies to certify that they maintain a consumer information security program as required by existing Massachusetts law.

“Equifax allowed the theft of our personal financial information, and then hid the breach from the public,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This bill would require companies like Equifax to pay for credit monitoring and makes it much easier for people to protect themselves from identify theft.”

Similar legislation has already passed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Minor differences in the House and Senate versions will be addressed before the legislation can advance to the Governor’s desk.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Student Loan Bill of Rights to Protect Borrowers, with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass the “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” giving greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans. Advancing this legislation represents a victory at the intersection of economic justice and consumer protection, offering greater safeguards for our student population against unscrupulous lenders.

The bill, S.2380, An Act establishing a student loan bill of rights, requires student loan servicers to be licensed companies with the state Division of Banks, and empowers state officials to investigate the servicers and take action against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws.

The bill also supports the ongoing work of Attorney General Maura Healey’s Student Loan Assistance Unit by establishing a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office, who will lead efforts to respond to complaints from student loan borrowers and help them understand their rights. This measure to provide greater assistance navigating this financially perilous terrain is especially important given efforts at the federal level to weaken scrutiny on lenders.

“Unscrupulous lenders have enormous power to wreak havoc on the financial well-being of young adults seeking only to responsibly finance their higher education,” cautioned Senator Jason Lewis. “This important consumer protection legislation provides more tools and oversight measures to safeguard student loan recipients against predatory and unethical practices.”

Nationally, borrowers hold over $1.2 trillion in student debt, with student loan debt surpassing even credit card debt this decade. In Massachusetts, one in four people hold student debt, and the average balance has increased 75 percent over the last 10 years.

Under the bill, student loan servicers would have to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits.

Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.

The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.