Senate Passes Civics Education Curriculum Bill with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate voted to pass S. 2355, An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, legislation developed over eighteen months of bipartisan collaboration and passed with the support of Senator Jason Lewis.

The legislation enacts a hands-on and experiential approach to fostering civic engagement. The bill incorporates project-based learning components, encourages the instruction of civic competencies – including news and media literacy – and provides extracurricular civic-participation opportunities.

Senator Lewis noted that he had been urged to support this bill by young people across the partisan spectrum. “Members of both Young Democrats and Young Republicans chapters in our region encouraged me to support this bill because our youth are increasingly civically engaged and are eager to contribute as citizens,” said Senator Lewis. “We have seen young people across the country take leadership roles in issue debates and other opportunities for community engagement. This legislation will further prepare our students to be civic leaders and fully participate in our democracy.”

The legislation: updates the requirement that all public schools provide instruction in American history and civics; requires all public school students to participate in 2 student led civics projects; permits the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to establish regional civics councils; permits DESE to establish an annual convention to assess the state of civics education; permits school committees to design a student outreach officer position who shall be responsible for ensuring that a student advisory committee exists and is informed about the agenda of the school committee; requires the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to create a civics endorsement for educators demonstrating competency; establishes a special commission to study the development of civic education for youth; and, requires the Massachusetts Secretary of State to establish the High School Voter Challenge, where each public high school will appoint a student voter outreach officer who will hold voter registration drives for eligible voters to register and pre-register to vote during High School Voter Challenge Weeks.

The curriculum is made possible by the Civics Project Trust Fund, which will provide funding for professional development and for the further development of curriculum frameworks to ensure that this measure is not an unfunded mandate to be financed out of municipal budgets.

The bill has been referred 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.

Column: It Is Time For Paid Family and Medical Leave In Massachusetts

Virtually all of us will need to take time off from work at some point in our lives due to a serious injury or illness, the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick family member. When this situation arises we should not have to risk job loss or financial ruin. Unfortunately, for millions of workers in Massachusetts today, they either have no access to family or medical leave or they cannot afford to take unpaid leave.

The United States is one of the only wealthy countries in the world that doesn’t provide paid family and medical leave (PFML) to all of its workers. A few states — including California, Washington, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island — have created PFML programs for their residents, and some employers, particularly larger companies, may offer certain paid leave benefits for their employees.

The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more workers within a 75 mile radius to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to certain eligible workers to deal with serious personal and family health conditions or to care for a new child. FMLA only covers about 60% of the workforce. The Massachusetts Parental Leave Law extends family leave for up to 8 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child to workers at smaller companies (those with 6 or more employees). However, like the FMLA this law only requires employers to provide unpaid leave. As a result, many workers cannot afford to take any leave at all or they end up taking a shorter leave than they really need. They may also need to exhaust any sick days or vacation time they are entitled to.

There are a number of strong arguments in favor of establishing a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts. It would improve worker morale and productivity, reduce employee turnover, strengthen families, improve child and maternal health, and ultimately benefit our state economy.

There are also many important and challenging design details that need to be carefully considered when creating a PFML program. For example, what is the appropriate length of leave for different medical and family needs; what should the eligibility criteria be; what is the appropriate wage replacement rate; how should the program be administered; how should the program costs be shared between businesses and workers; should employers of different sizes be treated differently; what are the tax implications; what is a reasonable implementation timeline; and much more.

A number of different PFML bills are currently under consideration in the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, which we co-chair. In addition, Raise Up Massachusetts — a large coalition of community groups, religious groups, and labor unions — has gathered enough signatures to put forward a PFML ballot initiative in the November election. However, both Raise Up and the business community agree that it would be preferable to work out the details of a PFML program for Massachusetts through the legislative process.

To this end, we have convened a Working Group with representatives from Raise Up and the business community. This group has been hard at work over the past four months, and we are hopeful that we can reach an agreement that will receive the support of our colleagues in the legislature as well as Governor Baker.

With so many workers and families struggling to make ends meet, creating a strong paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts is vital to the wellbeing of our Commonwealth. We must lead on this important economic security issue.

Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur are the co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

Senate Passes Social Media Privacy Protection Legislation with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed S.2320, An Act relative to social media privacy protection. The bill aims to protect the personal social media accounts of students and employees across the Commonwealth.

Specifically, the legislation prevents employers and schools from requesting and requiring access to the personal social media accounts of applicants, employees, and students as a condition of acceptance, employment, or participation in school activities.

“As use of social media becomes increasingly ubiquitous, we must ensure that legal protections regarding the privacy of these personal communications keep up,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Information contained on an individual’s social media account should not be abused by an employer or school. This legislation will implement appropriate legal protections.”

More than twenty-five states have already enacted legislation addressing this issue, and bills on this topic are pending in many other jurisdictions. This is the third session in which the Senate has voted favorably on this bill.

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

Senate Passes Pet Protection Bills with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed two bills strengthening pet health and safety in the Commonwealth. S.1155, An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens, ensures that puppies and kittens are bred and sold in safe and healthy environments, and strengthens the Massachusetts “Puppy Lemon Law” to give pet owners more options if they unknowingly purchase a sick pet. S. 2332, An Act to Protect Animal Welfare And Safety In Cities And Towns (PAWS II), expands on gains first secured in the original PAWS law that was filed in response to the Puppy Doe animal abuse case of 2014, now the subject of a trial in Dedham District Court.

“As an animal welfare advocate and pet owner, I am very pleased to support these bills,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “They will build on progress already made to ensure the humane treatment, health, and safety of animals in Massachusetts, further punish those who engage in neglect and cruelty, and help make sure that when a pet is adopted into a family that the transition is a healthy and successful one.”

S. 1155 applies safety and breeding standards to protect pets and pet owners. It prohibits the sale of puppies and kittens younger than eight weeks old, increasing the likelihood that they will grow to be healthy dogs and cats, and outlines a process for a veterinarian to declare an animal suffering from a significant adverse health condition “unfit for sale.” To protect pet owners who unknowingly purchase a sick pet, the bill outlines remedies available to buyers of animals declared unfit for sale, including exchange of the animal or a refund and reimbursement for reasonable veterinary fees. The bill also sets forth a procedure for a seller to contest these demands.

Further, S. 1155 regulates commercial breeders and pet shops to further protect the health and safety of animals. It prohibits pet shops from selling dogs or cats originating at or purchased from breeders that are not properly licensed or have committed certain violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Pet shops would also be required to maintain certain compliance records and conspicuously post identifying information for the animal and the breeder. Finally, the bill empowers the Department of Agriculture to create rules and regulations to ensure commercial breeders maintain humane conditions.

PAWS II encompasses several key components recommended by the Animal Cruelty and Protection Task Force, which was constituted under the original PAWS Act. Task force members included the Massachusetts District Attorneys’ Association, State Police, the Attorney General’s office, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, veterinarians, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other stakeholders.

Key components of PAWS II include provisions to: require animal abuse be reported by the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Elder Affairs, and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission; add animal control officers as mandatory reporters of child abuse, elder abuse, and abuse against disabled persons; ensure efficient enforcement of animal control laws and increase penalties in animal control laws that provide non-criminal penalties for abuse; prohibit the drowning of wild and domestic animals; prohibit engaging in sexual contact with an animal; remove automatic killing of animals involved in animal fighting, creating other options for these animal victims; add animal crimes to the list of offenses that serve as the basis for a request for a determination of detention and or release upon conditions; prohibit insurance companies and housing authorities from refusing insurance coverage or housing with breed restrictions; and, require abandoned animal checks in vacant properties by property owners and landlords within three days following a foreclosure or termination of tenancy.

Sponsors of PAWS II pointed to a recent Massachusetts study which found that a person who has committed animal abuse is five times more likely to commit violence against people and four times more likely to commit property crimes.

Both bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed to Massachusetts Senate Leadership Post

Senator Jason Lewis was appointed by Senate President Harriette L. Chandler to the position of Assistant Majority Whip of the Massachusetts State Senate. The Assistant Majority Whip plays an integral role assisting the Senate leadership team in communicating policy goals to the Senate membership and advancing its legislative agenda.

“As we continue to fight for the future of Massachusetts families, the Massachusetts Senate has never had more energy or purpose than it has today,” said Senate President Chandler. “Senator Lewis is a respected leader amongst his colleagues, and I’m proud to have him as a critical member of my leadership team in 2018.”

Senator Lewis sees his appointment to the Senate leadership team as an opportunity to advance the values and priorities of our communities and working families. Through serving as Assistant Majority Whip, he will be able to further: promote local economic development; fight for quality, affordable healthcare for all; realize adequate and equitable funding for our public schools; advocate for racial, gender, and LGBTQ equality; champion policies that create economic opportunity for all; and, combat climate change and build a clean energy future.

“I’m honored to be named to Senate President Chandler’s leadership team. I look forward to working closely with the Senate President and our colleagues to move forward the Senate’s ambitious agenda, including policies that promote economic justice, social justice, and environmental sustainability in the Commonwealth.”

Currently, Senator Lewis serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, as well as the Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy. Further, Senator Lewis co-founded and serves as a co-Chair of the Prevention for Health Caucus in the Massachusetts legislature.

Column: A Bold Vision for a Clean Energy Future

Ahead of the Paris climate summit in late 2015, President Barack Obama said, “There’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate.” The resulting Paris Climate Agreement, signed by virtually every country in the world, is the strongest global response yet to the climate crisis facing our planet. Unfortunately, President Trump withdrew the United States from this agreement and our federal government has abdicated its responsibility to combat climate change. This responsibility has now fallen on states, cities, towns, businesses, and non-profit organizations. Massachusetts is stepping up to this challenge.

The Commonwealth has prioritized a cleaner, more sustainable energy future for years. The Global Warming Solutions Act, a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 2008, set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. We are currently on track to achieve the 2020 goal. In 2016, the state legislature passed An Act Relative to Energy Diversity, which will lead to significant new investments in offshore wind and hydroelectric energy as well as energy storage technology. Our efforts to combat climate change are reducing emissions, improving public health, catalyzing new technologies and businesses, and creating tens of thousands of new green economy jobs.

But we can and must do more. Throughout 2017, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, on which I serve, hosted ten public hearings across the Commonwealth, including one in our district. Throughout our “Massachusetts Clean Energy Future Tour” we heard feedback from concerned residents about the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels and speed up our transition to clean, renewable energy. You can read the report from the Tour at https://MALegislature.gov/CleanEnergyFuture. Also in 2017, the Senate passed legislation to establish a comprehensive adaptation management action plan (CAMP) in response to climate change. The plan would codify the goals and priorities for strengthening resiliency, preservation, protection, restoration, and enhancement of the Commonwealth’s built and natural infrastructure, based on data about existing and projected climate change impacts, including temperature change, flooding, and sea level rise. This legislation is now pending before the House of Representatives.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change released An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future, a comprehensive bill that is the most ambitious effort yet to tackle climate change. This legislation includes numerous strategies, such as: increasing the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for utilities by 3% annually; a sizable additional offshore wind energy procurement; removing solar net metering caps and increasing access to solar incentive programs; prohibiting any “pipeline tax” on electric ratepayers and requiring utilities to repair gas leaks; increasing energy storage capabilities; requiring new approaches to grid planning that prioritize clean, local energy sources; and, for the first time, establishing a carbon pricing mechanism to reduce emissions in the transportation and building sectors of the economy.

I’m hopeful that the Senate will soon debate and pass this legislation. It will ensure that Massachusetts is at the forefront globally of efforts to fight climate change and promote a clean energy future.

Senator Jason Lewis to Host Community Conversation in Malden on the Future of Work

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold on our changing economy, evolving workforce needs, and innovative approaches to prepare today’s students and workers for the jobs of the future. Held in every community of the district, “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different timely 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: The Future of Work in the Commonwealth – will take place on Tuesday, March 13, at 6:00pm. The event will occur in the auditorium of the Beebe School, 401 Pleasant Street, Malden, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta and Malden Public Schools Superintendent John Oteri, with introductory remarks from Senator Lewis, State Representative Paul Brodeur, and Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur serve as the co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from experts offering insights on a range of labor and workforce development issues. Secretary Acosta will discuss state priorities in advancing workforce preparedness and skill development in the innovation economy while Superintendent Oteri will discuss new approaches to providing multiple pathways for students to the jobs of the future. There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees. The forum is co-sponsored by Mayor Gary Christenson, State Representatives Paul Brodeur, Paul Donato, and Steve Ultrino, the Metro North Regional Employment Board, and the Malden Teen Enrichment Center.

“I’m excited that this upcoming Community Conversation will address the critical issue of how we prepare our students and workers for good paying jobs of the future,” said Senator Lewis. “Closing the skills gap in order to grow our economy and lift up working families is dependent on innovative approaches in our high schools, colleges, and workforce development programs. I look forward to a very interesting conversation on these timely issues.”

“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; mental health; housing; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Senate Passes Bill Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Women’s Healthcare Access with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

Members of the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 2260, An Act Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women, also known as the “NASTY Women Act.”

The act repeals three archaic and unconstitutional laws that restrict a woman’s access to contraceptives and abortion. The antiquated laws include an 1800’s ban on all abortions, a state requirement that all non-emergent abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy be performed in a hospital, and a ban on contraception use for unmarried women.

“With constant threats to women’s health services coming from Washington, repealing these statutes is imperative,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health. “By passing this legislation, we are sending a message of support for women’s health and contraceptive access.”

The repeal of these three archaic statutes affirms that they will never be used again to penalize healthcare providers or people seeking contraception access or abortion care.

Column: Results of Constituent Feedback Survey and Priorities for 2018

I want to thank the many constituents who recently took the time to respond to our constituent feedback survey. Your responses regarding which issues are most important to you and your families provided very helpful input in setting our priorities for the remainder of this legislative session in 2018. The survey respondents included a good mix of constituents of different ages, different political affiliations, and from different communities across our district.

Controlling healthcare costs was the highest priority issue in the survey. This is not a surprise since high healthcare costs are a significant burden on families, seniors, businesses, and our state and local governments. As the Senate chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, I will continue to pursue strategies that will improve our healthcare system and lower costs, such as: focusing on prevention and wellness in order to reduce rates of costly, preventable chronic diseases; expanding the use of telehealth services; supporting our community hospitals and health centers; lowering rates of tobacco use and vaping among teens by raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21; encouraging healthier alternatives to sugary beverages for children; and other evidence-based measures that improve health outcomes and lower healthcare costs.

Improving mental health treatment and addressing opioid addiction was the next highest priority issue in the survey. Some of the most difficult and heartbreaking conversations I have with constituents concern a loved one who is struggling with a mental illness or addiction (or very often both). Tragically, we continue to lose young people every day to opioid overdoses. The legislature and Governor Baker have taken many steps in recent years to strengthen prevention, increase funding for treatment services, and improve recovery supports for mental health and addiction. However, we know that much more is needed. We are currently considering new legislation, including a bill recently filed by the Governor, that would take further steps, such as more resources for substance abuse education in schools, recovery coach credentialing, and better insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Strengthening civil rights protections for all was the third highest priority issue based on all the survey responses. I’m proud that Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to civil rights. In recent years, the legislature has passed important bills to ensure pay equity for women, protect pregnant workers, and prevent discrimination against transgender people. We hope to soon complete work on major criminal justice reforms that will reduce racial disparities, improve outcomes for people involved with the criminal justice system, and make our communities safer. I will also continue to advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees in our communities, and stand up to the misguided policies being pursued by the Trump administration.

The other top priority issues identified by survey respondents were: protecting the environment and addressing climate change; improving state government transparency and accountability; increasing support for our public schools; improving MBTA service, including the commuter rail; and, combatting income inequality. These are all issues which the legislature and Governor Baker have been working on, and we will strive to make further progress this year.

If you missed the opportunity to respond to our constituent feedback survey, we would still like to hear your feedback. Please contact my office at any time to share your thoughts on any state or local issue by calling (617) 722-1206 or by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov. Thanks again to everyone who responded to our constituent feedback survey.

Column: The Holiday Spirit in Our Communities

During this time of year, I’m reminded of the words of the writer Oscar Wilde who 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 in our communities. To me, each of these people is a local hero.

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, to supporting veterans in need.

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. I enthusiastically encourage you to reach out to your Town or City Hall to find out about such opportunities to get involved and play a greater role in your community.

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 New Year.