Column: Massachusetts Senate Hits the Road to Hear from Residents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

PRIORITY LEGISLATION FILED BY SENATOR JASON LEWIS

 

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EDUCATION

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

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

 

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

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

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

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

 

ANIMAL WELFARE

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

 

PUBLIC SAFETY

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

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

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

 

TRANSPORTATION

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

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

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

 

MARIJUANA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Column: Priorities for the New Legislative Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Column: Local Heroes in Our Communities

The writer Oscar Wilde said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  That is indeed the case with acts of volunteerism and charity.

Although it is during the holiday season that our thoughts often turn to how we can help our less fortunate neighbors, I am endlessly moved by the spirit of generosity and civic-mindedness that I see in our communities year-round.

Almost every day I interact with people in our communities who selflessly donate their time and money to support a myriad of worthy organizations and causes.  Almost all of these individuals do so quietly and without any official recognition, taking simple satisfaction from the impact that their actions have on improving life for others.  To me, each of these people is a local hero.

Here are just a few examples of the people I have had the privilege of meeting — and being inspired by — this past year:

•    A widow of a veteran who encourages families to share stories of loved ones who have served in the armed forces and creates a space for neighbors to celebrate the memories of those who have fought for our country.
•    A local pastor who volunteers his time as webmaster and event coordinator for an organization combating drug addiction, and also serves as a recovery coach.
•    A community activist who brings people together to examine and better understand the concepts of racism and privilege in order to confront bigotry and promote tolerance.
•    A team of high school students who developed a smartphone app that connects residents and helps them feel safer by providing real-time access to important community resources, emergency contacts, and emotional health resources.
•    A grandmother who tirelessly advocates for other grandparents who are raising their grandchildren and has started a grief support group for those who have lost a child to substance abuse.
•    A teenager who has raised thousands of dollars, created his own organization to support housing and other services for homeless youth, and successfully lobbied at the State House for legislation to assist homeless youth.

Of course, each of these remarkable individuals cannot achieve their goals alone and they are working together with others who are equally as devoted to the well-being of our communities.

During the holiday season and year-round there are countless opportunities to volunteer in our communities, from donating food and stocking shelves at a food pantry to being a mentor for an at-risk youth to supporting efforts to end domestic violence.

Volunteering to serve in local government is another great way to make a difference.  Municipal government relies heavily on volunteers from the community who can offer their time and unique expertise on various boards and committees.  Often there are vacancies that need to be filled.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”  If you want to discuss local volunteer or charitable opportunities, please feel free to contact my office at (617) 722-1206 or Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov and we would be happy to provide you with ideas and contact information for many worthy local organizations in our communities.

I wish you and your family a joyous holiday season and a very happy and healthy New Year.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Discrimination in Access to Organ Transplantation with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate recently passed H. 4332, An Act providing for nondiscrimination in access to organ transplantation, legislation for which Senator Jason Lewis was a co-sponsor.  This important bill seeks to address the discriminatory practice that has been found within organ procurement organizations to place disabled persons lower on organ transplant lists than those without disabilities.

Through analyzing whom the best candidates would be to receive these life-saving transplants, these organizations have historically placed those with disabilities lower on the list due to the assumption of a lower quality of life, even if those with disabilities have the same possibility of continuing life.  This bill will put safeguards in place to ensure disabled residents of Massachusetts that they are being treated equally.

“The fundamental rights and equality of all people, including people with disabilities, should be respected in all matters, most of all in life-or-death matters of emergency health care,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “I am very pleased that we were able to advance this important legislation to combat discrimination in this vital area of health care.”

This bill will also amend the Anatomical Gift Act by defining a “qualified individual” among other terms, in order to provide clear guidelines that prohibit deeming an individual ineligible solely based on their disabled status.  This will conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

In May, H. 4332 passed favorably through the Joint Committee on Public Health, on which Senator Lewis serves as Senate Chair.  The bill, which also passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives in late November at the same time that it passed the Senate, now goes to the Governor’s desk.

Column: Standing With Our Whole Community

I recently had the honor of emceeing Our Shared Table, the 12th Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition.  I was pleased to welcome hundreds of immigrants, refugees, and advocates to the Massachusetts State House.

I was inspired by the stories that were shared, including one young man who came to Boston from war-torn Somalia as a child, became a champion runner for the U.S. Track & Field team, and now teaches social studies at a Boston high school.

Sadly, many immigrants and members of other vulnerable populations are feeling anxious and scared right now.  The hateful rhetoric from the presidential campaign has spilled over into our communities, and we are seeing an alarming increase in acts of racial and ethnic harassment.

Let me be very clear.  There is no room for hate, bigotry, or intolerance of any kind in our communities.  We should treat one another with respect and dignity, regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, gender, immigrant status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  I am proud to represent one of the most diverse regions of the Commonwealth.  I believe these many areas of diversity are a source of great strength and cultural and economic vigor.

Some of you may know that I too am an immigrant. My family was fortunate enough to be able to leave South Africa when it was under the racist and oppressive apartheid system and to come to America in 1980.  One of my proudest childhood memories is when I became a naturalized citizen at age 18.

The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty features Emma Lazarus’ famous words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  We must do everything we can to ensure that these words continue to define who we are, as a Commonwealth and a nation.  We must not succumb to fear or hatred for our neighbor.

If you are a witness or victim to a bias-motivated threat, harassment, or act of violence, please contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s hotline at 1-800-994-3228 or your local police department to report the incident.

We will stand together!

Column: Supporting Our Veterans

It makes sense that Election Day and Veterans Day have such close proximity to one another, given that one of our most fundamental American rights — the right to vote and elect our leaders — has been secured for us by the courageous service of our veterans. As we commemorate Veterans Day this week, let’s remember this connection between our democracy and those charged with safeguarding it, today and in years past.

There are about 380,000 veterans living in Massachusetts today, and more than 50,000 of these veterans have a service-connected disability. Since September 11, 2001, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have returned home from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 140 servicemembers from Massachusetts have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our country.

George Washington is credited with saying, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

Massachusetts has long been a leader in supporting our veterans, and I’m pleased that earlier this year the state legislature passed An Act Relative to Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment, also known as the HOME Act.  This important legislation updated and expanded a variety of services and programs that support our veterans and their families in the Commonwealth.

One key provision of the HOME Act is the expansion of the Public Service Scholarship to children of any military or service person missing in action (MIA), as well as children of prisoners of war (POW). Prior to the passage of this legislation, these scholarships were only available to children of MIA/POW service members who served through the Vietnam War. This provision was based on a bill that Representative Paul Brodeur and I filed as a result of the advocacy work of the Melrose Veterans Advisory Board.

I was also proud to champion a successful amendment along with Representative Brad Jones to allow certain surviving family members of soldiers killed in action to obtain a Gold Star Family license plate from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Previously, the Registrar could issue a Gold Star Family plate, free of charge, only to spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren of service members who died while on active duty. The law did not apply to other extended family members and next of kin related to the soldier.  Our amendment now allows those individuals who possess a U.S. Department of Defense-issued Gold Star Lapel Button and letter of approval to also be eligible to obtain a Gold Star Family license plate.

This successful amendment to the HOME Act was inspired by a family from our district. Sgt. Christopher Young Vars was a World War II and Korean War veteran from Reading who was officially declared as missing in action on November 29, 1950. Although he was initially thought to have been killed in battle, Sgt. Vars was actually captured and held as a prisoner of war in North Korea, where he died several months later. His nephew, Arthur Vars, is his only next of kin and sought to honor the memory of his uncle while raising awareness of the sacrifices made by our troops.

There are many ways we can all honor the sacrifices made by our troops and veterans and show our gratitude, especially with the holiday season approaching. Hire a veteran in your business.  Send a care package to soldiers serving overseas. Volunteer at a VA soup kitchen. Get involved with Helping Our Troops (www.HelpingOurTroopsMA.org), a local group founded by two Stoneham veterans, Frank Geary and Walter Kopek. And, participate in the Veterans Day events that will be taking place in our communities on November 11th.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Preserve Evidence for Rape and Sexual Assault Kits with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate this week passed H. 4659, An Act relative to preservation of evidence for victims of rape and sexual assault.  This important bill will provide much needed relief to survivors of sexual assault throughout the state by requiring that rape evidence kits be held by public safety officials for the length of the statute of limitations for the crime charged.  Under current law, survivors of sexual assault who have not yet chosen to report the crime must notify law enforcement every six months if they wish to preserve the evidence contained in the kits.

“Sexual assault is a horrific and traumatic crime, and undue burdens shouldn’t be placed on survivors of sexual assault,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “This legislation is both more humane for victims and more sensible for law enforcement.”

This issue, along with other concerns regarding the timely testing and maintenance of sexual assault evidence kits, was raised in a 2013 report of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.  Based on that report, a comprehensive bill was filed which included a provision to extend the time period for holding the evidence kits.

The legislation, which passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives in August, enjoyed bipartisan support and the support of victim’s advocacy groups.

The bill, which now goes to the Governor, also calls for the promulgation of regulations to standardize the retention and preservation of sexual assault evidence, as well as requiring a report by the director of the state’s crime laboratory on the feasibility of establishing a single location or multiple regional locations for the retention and preservation of all forensic evidence collected in the Commonwealth.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives Award for Healthcare Policy Work

Senator Jason Lewis was recently honored to receive the John Collins Warren Award from the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons (MCACS) for his work on healthcare policy in the Massachusetts Senate and, specifically, for efforts “to protect patient access to safe, high-quality surgical care through outstanding leadership and distinguished service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Dr. Warren, for whom the award is named, was one of America’s prominent medical leaders in the first half of the 19th century, whose accomplishments include: playing a key role in establishing New England’s first medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery (first issue January 1812), which subsequently evolved into today’s New England Journal of Medicine; introducing general anesthesia to the world in 1846; and, being a founding member of Massachusetts General Hospital and serving as the facility’s first surgeon.

Senator Jason Lewis, who represents the 5th Middlesex Senate district (including Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and precincts 1, 2, 3, and 8 of Winchester), is center in the photo.  Standing to Senator Lewis’ left is Dr. Michael Jaklitsch of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who serves as MCACS President.  Standing to Senator Lewis’ right is Dr. Peter Masiakos of Massachusetts General Hospital, who serves as MCACS Treasurer.

surgeonsawardLeft to right: Dr. Michael Jaklitsch, Senator Jason Lewis, Dr. Peter Masiakos