Massachusetts Senate Passes Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed, by a vote of 27-10, a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that updates decades old criminal sentencing laws to improve outcomes of our criminal justice system. The bill is designed to strengthen public safety while improving outcomes in our justice system. Among the provisions included in the bill are repealing ineffective mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenders, reducing and eliminating overly burdensome fees and fines, reforming the bail system, allowing for compassionate release for infirmed inmates, and reforming the juvenile justice system.

The bill, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, is the result of lengthy work researching best practices, common sense solutions, and procedures and policies that have been effective in other states, in order to produce legislation that will enhance diversion from the criminal justice system, repeal outdated mandatory minimums for low level drug offenders, lower costs, and produce better outcomes.

“These reforms will help address racial injustice, reduce recidivism, improve public safety, lower the taxpayer-funded costs of incarceration, and significantly improve the quality of life in many of our most disadvantaged communities across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “roughly 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States, an increase of 1.9 million since 1972. We have the world’s largest prison population – with one-quarter of its prisoners but just 5 percent of the total population.”

As part of a nationwide trend in addressing the inequities in the bail system, the bill reforms the current bail system of the Commonwealth by setting strict guidelines for judges when setting bail for a defendant. The bill rewrites the existing bail statute to create a clear road map for decision-making consistent with the Supreme Judicial Court’s recent ruling that cash bail must be affordable. The bill goes beyond that guidance to further strengthen the procedural barriers to setting bail that is higher than a defendant can afford, to ensure individuals are not held solely because they are unable to pay.

Often times, defendants who cannot afford bail are incarcerated before trial with no ability to work, take care of their families, or receive important services such as addiction counseling. In addition, the bill makes dangerousness hearings available in more cases and allows longer detention of defendants on a dangerousness finding, strengthening the mechanism for holding people who are actually dangerous.

The bill also addresses the issue of “fine time” where the state incarcerates individuals who are unable to pay court fines and fees, equivalent to a modern day “debtor’s prison.” In November 2016, the Senate issued a report highlighting how these fees, including $150 fee for legal counsel even if a person has been ruled indigent, starts a vicious cycle of incarceration and punishing low income defendants. The bill sets a schedule to reduce and eliminate these fines and fees over time to protect indigent defendants. In addition, the bill reduces and eliminates monthly parole fees for individuals on parole.

The bill would also make several changes to limit unnecessary entanglements with the criminal justice system through sentencing reform and the expansion of diversion. Massachusetts law currently uses the term “trafficking” to refer to the wholesaling of drugs and distinguishes trafficking based on the weight of the material sold. Differentiating between drug retailers and wholesalers, the bill repeals mandatory minimum sentences for all retail drug-dealing offenses, and repeals existing mandatories for low-weight cocaine sales. Under the bill, one would have to sell over 100 grams of cocaine to be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence.

Recent polling has shown overwhelming public support for repealing mandatory minimums. In a 2016 nationwide poll by the PEW Charitable Trusts found that nearly 80 percent of people support the repeal of mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders and nearly three-quarters support repeal of mandatory minimums for all offenses. In two separate Massinc polls, one in 2014 and one in 2017, “just 8 percent of voters prefer mandatory minimums, while the vast majorityare split between having judges refer to sentencing guidelines (46 percent) or giving judges complete discretion in sentencing (41 percent).”

The bill does not repeal mandatory minimums for opioid trafficking and provides that trafficking in higher weights of emerging, highly potent, synthetic opioids like fentanyl should be subject to the same mandatory minimums as natural opioids like heroin and morphine. The mandatory minimums that would not be repealed by this bill, including those for heroin trafficking and high-weight cocaine trafficking, account for approximately 2% of the sentenced drug cases resulting in incarceration.

In addition to sentencing reform, the bill would make diversion to a program, as an alternative to the criminal process, more available for young adults and for people with substance use disorders, while supporting the expansion of restorative justice approaches in appropriate cases. Through these proposed reforms, the bill seeks to help drug users access the treatment they need, increase the availability of meaningful diversion opportunities, and reduce preventable contact with the criminal justice system.

The bill also updates various areas of the law related to juvenile justice, to encourage rehabilitation and positive future outcomes, reduce recidivism and ensure fair treatment for young people. The bill raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 18 year olds, holding young adults accountable for their mistakes while ensuring access to developmentally appropriate rehabilitative and educational services.

Recognizing that juveniles have not reached full adult maturity, the bill expands opportunities for the sealing and expungement of records, including the creation of a process for the expungement of juvenile misdemeanor records. The bill also decriminalizes in-school disorderly conduct, to reduce the use of arrest as a tool of school discipline.

In addition, the bill codifies the constitutional right of indigent juvenile offenders to counsel and expert assistance for parole hearings, as established by the 2015 Supreme Judicial Court decision in Diatchenko II. The bill creates a parent-child privilege to allow parents to help their children in the court system without being forced to testify about these conversations.

Senator Lewis was able to secure two amendments to the Senate’s final bill. The first amendment pertains to “civil forfeiture,” a process by which the government can take and sell a person’s property without ever convicting, or even charging, the person with a crime. Because these cases are technically civil actions, property owners receive few, if any, of the protections that criminal defendants enjoy. This amendment requires law enforcement agencies to document all instances of civil forfeiture to ensure that the process is not being abused. The second amendment pertains to “huffing.” Recognizing that individuals may inhale various substances in order to get high, the amendment replaces “vapors of glue” in the driving under the influence (DUI) statutes in favor of a broader definition that includes other substances such as chemicals found in aerosol can products like airduster and whipped cream. Inhaling or “huffing” these vapors is not only injurious to the person’s health, but it also inhibits the person’s motor skills, which, in turn, impairs driving.

Since 2007, thirty-three states have reformed or revised their criminal justice system to reduce incarceration rates, cut costs, reduce recidivism, and improve outcomes. Massachusetts reformed some sentencing provisions in 2012.

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

Joint Committee on Public Health and Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators Co-Host Informational Hearing Highlighting Domestic Violence as a Public Health Issue

The Joint Committee on Public Health, on which Senator Jason Lewis serves as Senate co-Chair, and the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators co-hosted an informational hearing at the State House on the topic of domestic violence as a public health issue. The purpose of the hearing was to examine the prevalence of domestic violence in the Commonwealth, its impact on the health of Massachusetts residents, current efforts addressing the issue, and recommendations for future actions.

“Domestic violence is a serious public health problem that harms the health and livelihood of too many residents across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Kate Hogan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “I hope that, using the information provided by testifiers at the hearing, we in the Legislature can determine how to enhance support for those working in prevention and response services and identify new policy initiatives to end domestic violence in Massachusetts.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in July 2017 that 55 percent of female homicides in the U.S. from 2003 to 2014 were related to intimate partner violence and in Massachusetts, using 2010-2012 data, the CDC estimated that over one in four women and one in ten men have experienced victimization by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Jane Doe Inc., Massachusetts’ statewide coalition against sexual and domestic violence, reported that between 2003 and 2012, 177 people in the Commonwealth were killed by their intimate partner, with 87 percent being female; additionally, 25 children of those affected by domestic violence also lost their lives during this period.

“The hearing emphasized the importance of addressing domestic violence through a public health lens,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “We heard more evidence of how critical it is to do everything possible to prevent this type of violence from occurring in our communities.”

Seventeen experts testified at the hearing, representing a range of backgrounds including those personally affected by domestic violence, state and county officials, researchers, prevention and response experts, advocates, and service providers serving a variety of different constituencies. In April 2015, Governor Charlie Baker signed Executive Order 563 elevating the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and appointing Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito as Chair. Lieutenant Governor Polito was joined by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders to testify at today’s hearing.

“The Baker-Polito Administration has been committed to introducing tools and reforms for policymakers, providers, law enforcement, community organizations, survivor advocates and others to raise awareness, prevent violence and hold offenders accountable,” said Lieutenant Governor Polito. “As Chair of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, we appreciate the Joint Committee on Public Health and Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators’ partnership on this issue and for hosting this informative discussion as the Commonwealth prioritizes all residents living a life free of fear and violence.”

Racial and ethnic minorities and low-income individuals are disproportionately affected by domestic violence. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that between 2003 and 2012, non-Hispanic Blacks and non-Hispanic multiracial individuals had higher rates of intimate partner violence (4.7 and 16.5 per 1,000 people, respectively) than non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic individuals of other races (3.9, 2.8, and 2.3 per 1,000 people, respectively). In addition, lack of financial resources can prevent victims from leaving abusive relationships, which may inordinately burden low-income individuals.

“A comprehensive public health approach to sexual and domestic violence must include both prevention and response, must be trauma informed and culturally responsive and inclusive” said Maureen Gallagher, Policy Director, Jane Doe Inc. “The work of JDI and our members has been driven by a public health perspective for many years and as the field has evolved, so have our perspectives. We often say ‘domestic violence can affect anyone’ and yet it does not affect everyone equally. If you are an immigrant, a person of color, a member of the LGBQ/T community, a poor person, or a person with a disability, experiences of gender-based violence will impact you differently and create more barriers to safety.”

“We must continue to work together to elevate the voices of survivors of domestic violence and put an end to the suffering too many women, men and children are still facing in its wake,” said Senator Linda Dorcena Forry. “By empowering survivors to tell their stories, working with advocates and allies, we can help those who are still facing domestic violence. We must do better to empower members of marginalized groups, like our immigrant community, who may feel they will be punished for coming forward. They must know we are here to support them as they show the courage to come forward.”

On October 2nd, the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate adopted a joint resolution, which was introduced by Chairs Hogan and Lewis and co-signed by 133 other representatives and senators, recognizing October as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” in the Commonwealth and affirming domestic violence as a threat to public health.

In addition to the oral testimony delivered during the informational hearing, the Joint Committee on Public Health is accepting all written testimony on this subject; testimony can be sent to Madison.Louis@mahouse.gov.

Massachusetts Senate Approves Legislation to Address Skills Gap and Help Unemployed Workers with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously to engross An Act to Diversify the Use of the Workforce Training Fund to Support the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund. The legislation, originally filed by the late Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly, and since championed by his successor Senator Cindy Friedman, will ensure a sustainable, predictable source of annual funding for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF). The WCTF provides high impact job training grants designed to support unemployed and under-employed workers while helping employers across the Commonwealth hire the skilled workers they need to grow. Furthermore, grants issued from the fund are to be re-named the Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success Grants.

“A reliable funding stream for workforce development and training will provide the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund with the predictable and stable funding to help our employers find the skilled workers they need to fill positions. We should all be proud that the legacy of our good friend the late Senator Donnelly will live on with the passage of this legislation,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

“Our economy in Massachusetts is one of the strongest in the nation, but we’re nevertheless facing challenges in ensuring our workers access the skills and jobs they need to thrive”, said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “Too many working families are struggling to get by, while many employers are facing difficulty hiring the skilled workers they need, and this legislation will help address both of these challenges.”

“This bill strengthens our workforce development system where it is needed the most, providing unemployed workers a pathway to economic stability” said Senator Cindy Friedman. “Senator Donnelly was a long-time advocate for working families and it is so fitting that as we provide a reliable funding stream for workforce development grants that we honor his memory by naming the grants after him.”

This bill would allow up to 5% of the state’s Workforce Training Fund, an approximately $22M annual fund supported by employer contributions for incumbent worker training, to be used for the WCTF, a proven sector-based training model that has served hundreds of employers with qualified, skilled employees.

The WCTF was created by the economic stimulus act of 2006 and administered by Commonwealth Corporation on behalf of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The WCTF funds regional sector training partnerships across the state with the goal of placing unemployed and underemployed workers in jobs that are in demand. Grants from the fund bring together employers in a particular sector, workforce investment boards, career centers, vocational technical schools, community colleges, and workforce training providers.

The bill also ensures that WCTF grants are performance-based, with 50% paid upon enrollment in the program and the remaining 50% to be paid contingent on job placement and retention outcomes.

A broad coalition of stakeholders has advocated for this legislation, including the business community, workforce boards, labor unions, job training providers, and advocates for low-income workers and their families.

Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly served for 37 years as a firefighter and for 8 years as a state senator. He was a staunch believer in the role of unions and government to protect workers, and he was well known for his efforts to advance justice and equality for all people no matter their race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. During his time in the Senate he advocated fiercely for funding for workforce training for unemployed and underemployed workers.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jason Lewis (far right) was proud to stand beside (left to right) Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Judy Donnelly (widow of the late Senator Kenneth Donnelly), and Senator Cindy Friedman (Senator Donnelly’s successor and former Chief of Staff) as the Massachusetts Senate honored the memory of Senator Donnelly and engrossed legislation to invest needed resources in workforce development grants for our working families.

Massachusetts Senate Releases Healthcare Report and Draft Legislation to Contain Costs, Protect Consumers

The Massachusetts Senate released a report “Working Together to Improve Our Health: Right Care, Right Place, Fair Price, Recommendations from the Senate Working Group on Health Care Cost Containment and Reform,” that focuses on both short and long terms goals on how to strengthen our healthcare system to lower costs, improve outcomes, and enhance access. The report and accompanying draft legislation is the result of a collaborative effort by a group of Senators to address the healthcare system by analyzing the best practices in other states and engaging stakeholders in a series of meetings over the last year.

Healthcare costs are continuing to strain the budget of working families, businesses, and government. The Senate has continued to push for reforms to the current system through diligent research, stakeholder engagement, and legislation. The working group of Senators, with the logistical support of the Milbank Memorial Fund spent the last year meeting with officials from seven states, healthcare experts, and stakeholders to examine best practices while lowering costs and improving outcomes.

“Massachusetts should continue to lead on healthcare, and having a robust economy depends upon on lowering costs for everyone without compromising quality or access. The recommendations in this report will help working families, businesses, and our state budget,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg. “I’m very proud of the work the Senate did to craft a comprehensive report and draft legislation that touches so many aspects of our healthcare system and meets the needs of all engaged stakeholders.”

“This important legislation takes meaningful steps to both improve healthcare quality and outcomes, as well as contain costs,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who served on the Senate Working Group on Health Care Cost Containment and Reform, as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “More deeply, this legislation furthers efforts to address the social determinants of health that are responsible for many health inequities in our system; and, innovative steps are taken to make prevention a more central component of our healthcare system, which will improve our quality-of-life and save money.”

The goals outlined in the report vary from more effective care delivery such as telemedicine and mobile integrated health to reducing emergency room visits to expanding provider versatility while also addressing price variation between larger hospitals and their smaller community hospital counterparts. The report outlines a series of recommendations that will achieve these goals and lower costs as a result of implementation.

The bill takes concrete steps to expand provider versatility to increase access to lower cost providers. It expands provider treatment authority for nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, psychiatric clinical nurse specialists, optometrists, and podiatrists; additionally, it establishes a mid-level dental therapist (DT) certification.

A DT would be able to perform procedures including basic tooth extractions, fillings, and taking x-rays, freeing up dentists to focus on complicated cases. Currently, in Massachusetts over a half-million residents live in dentist shortage areas as defined by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and in 2014 only 35 percent of dentists treated MassHealth patients. As a result, 44 percent of children on MassHealth (over 284,000) did not see a dentist in 2015. This bill is uniquely designed to target those living in dentist shortage areas by allowing DTs additional freedoms to operate under non-profits and in a licensed mobile dentistry program. By reaching out to underserved populations, the culture around oral healthcare can begin to change.

The bill also reauthorizes and updates the successful Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF), and provides opportunities for new sources of funding, a major priority of Senator Lewis’. The PWTF funds community partnerships made up of municipal governments, healthcare providers, and local health and human service organizations, all working closely together to achieve a community-wide focus on prevention and wellness. Early results from an assessment conducted by Harvard Catalyst indicate that “to date, PWTF appears to be a very sound investment from the point of view of improving outcomes and controlling costs.”

The report aims to reduce hospital re-admissions and emergency department use through mobile integrated health and telemedicine as well as expanding access to behavioral health. Massachusetts Health Policy Commission has estimated that 42 percent of all Emergency department visits are avoidable.

Post-acute care in an institutional setting and long term care and supports (LTSS) cost the state an estimated $4.7 billion in 2015, a major cost driver for MassHealth. The report recommends increased transition planning for patients into community settings and strengthening coordination between providers.

Pharmaceutical costs have been a driver of increased healthcare costs for a number of years. The Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) reported a 6.4 percent growth in pharmaceutical spending in 2016. Drug costs are making families choose between filling prescriptions and paying for other essentials like housing and food. The report recommends greater oversight and transparency in drug costs and encourages Massachusetts to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements, including a multistate drug purchasing consortium like other states, to lower costs and protect consumers.

The scope of the report encompasses the whole system from Medicaid to the commercial market, and makes additional recommendations on how to lower costs, address price variation, increase price transparency for consumers, leverage better federal funding opportunities, and many other recommendations. A copy of the report and draft legislation can be found online at https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Detail/S61/Documents.

Column: We Need To Do More to Stop Wage Theft

Earlier this year, at the start of the new legislative session, we were pleased to be appointed by the Senate President and House Speaker, respectively, to co-Chair the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Together, we have since immersed ourselves in a wide range of labor and employment issues in the Commonwealth. We have held committee hearings on proposed legislation, met with many different stakeholders to hear their concerns and feedback, and conducted research on policies and best practices around the country.

One particular issue that may surprise many people is the serious problem of wage theft. Wage theft is a collective term for any denial of wages or benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee. The most common wage theft violations in Massachusetts are non-payment of wages, failure to keep true and accurate records, failure to pay the proper overtime rate, child labor violations, failure to pay minimum wage or tips, and failure to pay prevailing wage. Other violations include failure to submit accurate payroll records, earned sick time violations, and improper classification of employees as independent contractors.

Just how pervasive is wage theft? It is estimated that nearly $700 million is not paid to about 350,000 mostly low-wage workers each year in Massachusetts. In addition to the harm this inflicts on struggling working families, it also cheats the state out of greater economic activity, jobs, and tax revenue.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) is the state’s primary enforcer of laws relating to wages. Enforcement is carried out by attorneys and investigators in the AGO’s Fair Labor Division (FLD). In Fiscal Year 2017, the FLD received 16,684 calls and 5,604 complaints, and opened 607 cases related to wage theft. The FLD ordered employers to pay more than $6 million in restitution and more than $2.6 million in penalties. This is more than double the restitution ($2.6 million) and about triple the penalties ($900,000) from Fiscal Year 2016. The FLD also cited or settled 27 earned sick time cases, totaling $160,000 in restitution and penalties. And, the FLD issued 47 citations to 46 employers and assessed more than $270,000 in penalties for child labor law violations.

Wage theft investigations spanned more than twenty different industries, with the restaurant and construction industries having the highest percentage of violations cited. Perpetrators of wage theft and worker exploitation typically target vulnerable populations like low-wage workers and immigrant workers.

Vigorous enforcement of our labor laws is critical to ensure that workers are paid what they are owed, the playing field is level for the majority of businesses that follow the law, and to protect the Commonwealth from lost revenue in the form of taxes and unemployment insurance contributions.

To be proactive, the AGO has also worked with community partners to put on Wage Theft Clinics for workers. More than 230 workers have received free consultations at these clinics so far, and more than $65,000 in stolen wages has been recovered. Volunteer lawyers, law students, interpreters, and workers’ rights advocates are on hand to educate workers about their rights, draft demand letters, or prepare small claims court complaints. For questions about upcoming Wage Theft Clinics or other inquiries about the AGO’s enforcement of laws relating to wages, contact the FLD at (617) 727-3465.

In the legislature, the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, is considering several bills to help combat wage theft, including An Act to Prevent Wage Theft and Promote Employer Accountability, sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Aaron Michlewitz. This important legislation would further strengthen the enforcement powers of the AGO, and would hold lead contractors accountable for wage theft violations of their subcontractors as long as there is a significant connection to their business activities.

Through education, enforcement, and legislation, we must do more to stop wage theft in Massachusetts.

Senator Jason Lewis
Senate co-Chair, Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development

Representative Paul Brodeur
House co-Chair, Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development

Senate Releases MassMoves Report to Create a 21st Century Transportation Vision for Massachusetts

The Massachusetts State Senate released its MassMoves report highlighting residents’ priorities for a forward-thinking 21st century vision for the Commonwealth’s transportation system. The Senate launched the MassMoves initiative as a part of the Commonwealth Conversations Tour in order to collect feedback directly from residents to help envision a better transportation system across Massachusetts.

The MassMoves executive summary and full report, entitled MassMoves: A Vision for the Commonwealth’s 21st-Century Transportation System, can be accessed online at https://MALegislature.gov/CC/. This work was supported by the Barr Foundation.

“A reliable, accessible, and affordable public transportation system is vital for robust economic growth and a sustainable quality-of-life across our region,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Those who rely on public transit span demographics and geography, from a commuting workforce, to students and senior citizens, to families traveling to recreation spots across the region and state. Feedback directly from residents locally and statewide was integral to guiding the Senate’s planning on transportation to ensure that the Commonwealth meets its residents’ public transit needs in the years ahead.”

Over 700 citizens were engaged during nine transportation-focused workshops held during the Commonwealth Conversations Tour across Massachusetts. Participants agreed that transportation needs to run efficiently, especially rail and bus. Participants expressed favor for additional investment in transportation through broad-based general taxes over targeted user fees. All nine transportation workshops support allowing local government to raise money for local transportation projects. The report also highlights transportation priorities in nine regions of Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth Conversations Tour, not to be confused with Senator Jason Lewis’ local Community Conversations series, is a statewide listening tour spanning nine regions across the state, giving the Senate the opportunity to meet with local residents, businesses, and interest groups in every corner of Massachusetts to hear their concerns directly on issues of importance to every resident.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed to Task Force on Strengthening Local Retail

Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr announced the appointments of Senators and retailers to the Senate Task Force on Strengthening Massachusetts Local Retail. Among the appointments to the task force is Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. The task force was established to work with the Senate to identify ways to help local retailers become more competitive.

The Task Force will address a number of key factors, including: challenges faced by local retailers in competing against online sellers; closures of local retail establishments and the impact that has on local economies and property tax bases; initiatives by local retailers to increase their market share; and, how state and local governments can encourage purchasing from local retailers.

“Our local small businesses and Main Street retailers are vital to local economic development and the well-being of our communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Policymakers must work closely with them to help address the challenges they are facing in an ever-changing economy. This task force will provide an important avenue for further collaboration between the private and public sectors. I am eager to hear feedback from retailers in our communities and to work with my colleagues on the task force to achieve solutions that will strengthen prosperity on our Main Streets.”

In addition to Senator Lewis, Senate President Rosenberg appointed Senator Michael Rodrigues, who will serve as Chair, as well as Senators Mike Barrett, Julian Cyr, and Kathleen O’Connor-Ives. Senate Minority Leader Tarr appointed Senators Vinny DeMacedo and Don Humason.

The retailers appointed by Senate President Rosenberg are Judy 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 Rotman’s Furniture in Worcester, and Malcolm Sherman, a retail consultant with expertise in turning around struggling businesses. The retailers appointed by Senate Minority Leader Tarr are Christopher Carlozzi, State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business, John Cahill of Landry & Arcani Rugs in Salem, and Christopher Connolly, President of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association.

The remaining appointees are 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. Outside experts with expertise in business and economics may also be consulted to assist the Task Force in facilitating its work.

The Task Force will report back to the Senate President and Senate Minority Leader by June 1, 2018.

Senator Jason Lewis Joins Fair Skies Caucus to Address Airplane Noise and Pollution

Senator Jason Lewis has joined the recently created Fair Skies Caucus of the Massachusetts Legislature. The objective of the Fair Skies Caucus is to bring together Senators and Representatives whose districts are affected by airplane noise and pollution to find meaningful solutions to the problem. The Caucus will collaborate with members of the Massport Community Advisory Committee in order to optimize advocacy for those communities that are impacted by overflights from Logan Airport, Worcester Airport, and Hanscom Field.

The caucus, formed just last month, aims to encourage bipartisan and bicameral collaboration on relevant legislation and budget matters, and will unite the advocacy efforts of its individual members in order to more effectively collaborate with Massport and other agencies.

“Heightened concerns regarding airplane noise and frequency were shared over the summer by constituents as Logan Airport undertook runway repairs that led to alterations in flight paths, which led to increased noise impacting our communities,” noted Senator Jason Lewis. “Unique situations like that, as well as the issue of airplane noise in general, affect people’s quality of life in our region and require greater communication between Massport and the public. I expect that the Fair Skies Caucus will serve as a mechanism to enhance that communication, to strengthen advocacy on behalf of our region’s residents, and to achieve solutions to these concerns.”

In addition to creating a forum for legislators to work jointly on issues pertaining to airplane noise, the caucus will allow for increased collaboration with members of the Massport Community Advisory Committee (Massport CAC). The Massport CAC, comprised of representatives from 35 communities, serves as the voice of communities affected by Massport operations. People can learn more about the operations of the Massport CAC, as well as issues of airplane noise and related topics, at http://MassportCAC.org/.

By optimizing advocacy efforts through the Fair Skies Caucus, legislators will work collaboratively to find meaningful solutions to an issue affecting communities across the Commonwealth.

Senator Jason Lewis to Host Community Conversation in Stoneham on Arts and the Local Economy

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold on the impact of the arts and cultural sector on our local economy. Held in every community of the district, “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different topic at each forum, with ample opportunity for residents to share feedback and have their questions answered by experts on the given topic.

This upcoming event – Community Conversations: Investing in Arts and Culture to Strengthen Our Local Economies – will take place on Tuesday, September 26, at 6:30pm. The event will occur at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from: Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council; Christopher Carino, Chairman of the Town of Wakefield’s Albion Cultural Exchange Committee; and, Amanda Chisholm, Chief Economic Development Planner for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from numerous issue experts regarding the benefits to our local economies provided by the arts and cultural sector, and how our communities can best engage the arts and cultural sector as part of strategic economic development. There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees. The forum is co-sponsored by the municipal Cultural Councils of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and Winchester, as well as State Representative Michael Day and the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce.

“Local arts provide our communities not only with entertainment and education, but also with substantial economic stimulus,” noted Senator Lewis. “I look forward to discussing with this distinguished panel how we can invest in communities that are simultaneously culturally vibrant and economically thriving. I am also eager to hear feedback on this from local residents, as the conversations I have directly with constituents across the district are the best source of information and guidance to help me do my job in the legislature.”

“Community Conversations” forums have been held in all six communities of the 5th Middlesex district on topics including: public education; public transportation; small business and entrepreneurship; challenges facing senior citizens and caregivers; veterans’ issues; housing; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Column: The Benefits and Challenges of Autonomous Vehicles

More than 150 years ago, education reformer Horace Mann recognized that the economic success of Massachusetts depended on human brainpower and innovation. He famously said, “Having no other mines to work, Massachusetts has mined into the human intellect; and, from its limitless resources, she has won more sustaining and enduring prosperity and happiness than if she had been founded on a stratification of silver and gold, reaching deeper down than geology has yet penetrated.”

Today, the Commonwealth continues to be a national and global leader in technology and our economic growth and prosperity depends even more on our creativity and ability to foster innovation.

One exciting area of new technology where I believe Massachusetts should seek to lead the way is autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. An autonomous vehicle (AV) is capable of navigating without human input by sensing its environment and proceeding accordingly. Seemingly the stuff of science fiction not too long ago, AV technology has made such significant advances that experts estimate they could be commercially available within the next five years.

Autonomous vehicles offer the potential for significant benefits to our society and economy. Improved safety and reduced accidents are certainly at the top of the list. AVs hold the promise of greater transportation accessibility and social mobility for elderly, disabled, and low-income people. They could also enable a transformation in urban design, with much more efficient use of roadways and less need for parking spaces.

At the same time, this new technology brings potential risks and challenges that need to be anticipated and proactively addressed. Current public perception is that AVs are less safe than human drivers and, understandably, it will take time before people are willing to trust their lives to self-driving cars. Experts predict that AV technology, if not effectively managed, could actually increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20-40%, increasing congestion on roadways and increasing pollution and carbon emissions. There is also the prospect of “zombie” cars (vehicles with no passengers inside) endlessly circulating to avoid paying for parking or to serve as mobile billboards. Additionally, AVs could impact revenue streams upon which our cities, towns, and state depend, such as parking tickets, speeding tickets, and gas taxes.

I believe Massachusetts is well positioned to help ensure that we realize the benefits of AVs while effectively managing the risks. In doing so, we could become global leaders in this transformational technology. Working together with the Conservation Law Foundation, I’m pleased to have sponsored legislation in the Senate, An Act to Promote the Safe Integration of Autonomous Vehicles into the Transportation System of the Commonwealth. This bill incorporates the best policy ideas and practices from the federal government and other states to encourage a transition to a shared, clean-energy fleet of AVs, resulting in less congestion, cleaner air, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and greater mobility options for all Massachusetts residents.

The legislation creates a flexible regulatory framework to allow and encourage AVs on our roads, without limiting that right only to certain auto manufacturers. Critical safety measures are included, like rigorous testing, regular software updates, and failure alert systems. The bill also seeks to strongly encourage AVs to be zero-emission (electric) vehicles, and to promote shared use. Finally, the bill establishes a road usage charge (VMT) to replace lost gas tax revenue, with a base rate per mile and various discounts for factors such as multiple passengers, off-peak hours, certain geographic areas, lower income riders, lighter vehicles, etc.

As AV technology advances, we must also consider other public policy ramifications, such as lost jobs for taxi/TNC and truck drivers and the impact on urban redesign of our cities and towns. These are big challenges that we must start thinking about and planning for now.