Senator Jason Lewis Receives HIV/AIDS Legislative Leadership Award from AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts

Citing his support for vital public health efforts, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts presented Senator Jason Lewis with their HIV/AIDS Legislative Leadership Award prior to the 32nd annual AIDS Walk on Sunday, June 4.  AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts’ mission is to stop the epidemic and related health inequities by eliminating new infections, maximizing healthier outcomes for those infected and at risk, and tackling the root causes of HIV/AIDS.

The award recognized Senator Lewis’ efforts “supporting expansion of syringe access programs and working towards the goal of getting to zero new infections in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”  Harm reduction programs like needle exchange are a proven, effective public health response to the opioid crisis we face, and a safe way to engage injection drug users with needed care.  Senator Lewis has served as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health since 2015.

“When the Syringe Access Coalition needed an ally to champion the importance of expanding needle exchange programs in the Senate, we immediately turned to Senator Jason Lewis who has long been an advocate for public health in the Legislature,” said Carl Sciortino, Executive Director of AIDS Action Committee.  “AIDS Action Committee is proud to present Senator Lewis with our HIV/AIDS Legislative Leadership Award.”

“I’m proud to work with AIDS Action Committee, the entire Project ABLE coalition, and public health advocates and activists across the Commonwealth as we work toward achieving the goal of zero new infections,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “We need to continue expanding resources for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C support services, for prevention, screening, health navigation, education, and outreach.”

Massachusetts Senate Passes Fiscal Year 2018 Budget with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate passed a $40.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2018, investing in key areas related to local aid, education, health and human services, housing and workforce development. The budget makes targeted investments, while limiting the use of one-time revenue sources and protecting the state’s Stabilization Fund.

“I’m pleased that this budget balances responsible fiscal stewardship with the need for critical investments in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “From starting to implement the recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission to fostering innovative approaches in public health to funding key support for workforce development, this budget does right by youth and seniors, workers and taxpayers, entrepreneurs and families.”

In line with the Senate’s “Kids First” framework to invest in our children, the budget directs funding to high quality education for everyone, from children at birth to adults making midlife career transitions.  The budget commits $4.76 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, allowing for a minimum increase of $30 per pupil aid, and takes steps to implement the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations to more adequately and equitably fund school districts across the state, an effort for which Senator Lewis has spent his tenure in the legislature advocating.  The budget allots $545.1 million for community colleges and universities, and $534.5 million for the University of Massachusetts.  Importantly, $293.7 million is committed to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker for the 6th year in a row, reimbursing school districts for the high cost of educating students with disabilities.  To enhance the ability of all young people to meet their potential, $15.1 million is budgeted to expand access to high quality preschool for 4-year-olds in low-income households, $10 million is included to boost salaries for early educators, and $3.7 million is committed for after-school and out-of-school programs to support students who need more time and specialized attention.

The budget continues the Senate’s strong partnership with municipalities in directing significant investments to local aid and community services, including: $1.06 billion for Unrestricted General Government Aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges; $83 million for Regional Transit Authorities; $26.7 million for the Board of Library Commissioners, from which $10.4 million is committed for regional library local aid and $9.8 million is allocated for municipal libraries, with $2.3 million for technology and automated resources; $16.5 million for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support the state-wide creative economy and local arts and culture; and, $14.2 million for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers.

The budget takes steps to contain health care costs and invests in health and human services to ensure access to high quality, affordable health care and to support children, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans.  This includes: $388.4 million for mental health support services for adults, including $1 million to expand community-based placements to alleviate longer than necessary stays in inpatient units or emergency rooms; $144.1 million for a range of substance abuse treatment, intervention, and recovery support services; $91.6 million for mental health services for children and young people; $31.3 million for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; $24.2 million to fully fund Department of Developmental Services Turning 22 services to help young people with disabilities transition to the adult services system; $13.2 million for Family Resource Centers, providing community-based services for families across the state; and, $3.5 million to encourage collaboration among agencies, schools and community partners to strengthen programming for early detection and screening for mental illness in children.

As part of his ongoing efforts to contain healthcare costs and enhance public health through prevention, Senator Lewis successfully championed an amendment to the budget that reauthorizes and expands the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF), to be funded through a tax on flavored tobacco products, which had previously avoided its due level of taxation through a special loophole.  Senator Lewis helped lead the effort to create a first-in-the-nation PWTF in 2012. 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. The goal is to reduce rates of the most prevalent and preventable health conditions, address health disparities, and reduce healthcare costs.  Since its creation the PWTF has increased access to preventive services for nearly one million Massachusetts residents.

The budget invests $464.1M in low income housing and homelessness services, with a focus on preventative and supportive resources to connect people with affordable, stable housing, as well as assistance for those in crisis. In addition to increasing funding, the budget expands access to housing and homelessness prevention resources by increasing the income threshold for rental vouchers, expanding eligibility for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, and increasing the HomeBASE re-housing subsidy cap to better divert families to housing.

The budget also makes targeted investments to promote self-sufficiency among low-income families and create opportunities for people to develop the skills they need to compete in the workforce and boost our economy, including: $30.8 million for adult basic education services; $20 million for civil legal aid services for low-income people; $17.6M for the emergency food assistance program; $12.5 million for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth; and, $2.5 million for Small Business Technical Assistance grants.

As a safeguard for our Commonwealth’s commuters, Senator Lewis successfully championed an amendment to require that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) more effectively identify and notify any drivers who owe more than $100 in tolls and fees to prevent commuters from unknowingly accruing unexpectedly sizable overdue payment fees.

Finally, the budget includes several initiatives to maximize state and federal revenue opportunities, including a standing Tax Expenditure Review Commission to evaluate all tax expenditures and their fiscal impact. The budget also expands the room occupancy tax to short-term rentals and modifies the film tax credit to ensure the incentive benefits local communities, residents, and business.

A Conference Committee will now work out the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2018 begins on July 1, 2017.

Column: Lowering Healthcare Costs by Reducing Consumption of Sugary Drinks

There are plenty of foods and beverages that most of us consume that we know are unhealthy for us. So why should we single out sugary drinks?

The simple answer is that sugar-sweetened beverages are by far the largest source of added sugar in the American diet – more than desserts and candy combined. And, it is clear from many studies that there is a strong link between consuming these beverages and developing serious health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and poor dental health. Treating these preventable chronic illnesses is a major driver of the high and rising healthcare costs that are squeezing our family, business, and government budgets.

Enjoying a soda or lemonade used to be an occasional treat for most children and adults. But, today, these beverages are consumed in far greater quantities. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume no more than one 8-ounce sugary drink per week; however, 60 percent of Massachusetts children drink at least one sugary drink per day.

Sugary drinks, such as sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened iced teas, offer no nutritional value and are usually consumed in addition to, not in place of, solid calories, thus contributing significantly to weight gain. In Massachusetts, approximately one-third of children and adolescents and 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Meanwhile, the rate of Massachusetts residents that suffer from diabetes has more than doubled over the past 20 years, and it is estimated that 35 percent of the adult population is pre-diabetic. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, drinking just one or two sugary beverages daily increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26 percent.

Healthcare costs to treat obesity-related conditions, diabetes, and heart disease easily exceed $500 billion annually in the United States. We all bear this burden through higher health insurance premiums and taxes that we pay.

To help address this public health crisis and reduce healthcare costs, we have introduced new legislation, An Act to promote healthy alternatives to sugary drinks. The goal is to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks by replacing it with water and other healthier beverage choices, particularly among children and teens. This will improve health and lower rates of preventable chronic diseases, which in turn will contribute to lower healthcare costs.

The legislation includes a number of proven strategies to reduce the marketing of sugary drinks to children. It also establishes a tiered sugary drink excise tax: beverages with less than 5 grams of added sugar per 12 fluid ounces will not be taxed; beverages with between 5 grams and 19 grams of added sugar per 12 fluid ounces will be taxed at a rate of 1-cent-per-ounce; and beverages with 20 or more grams of added sugar per 12 fluid ounces will be taxed at a rate of 2-cents-per-ounce. The revenue raised by this tax, estimated at $368 million annually, would be deposited in a newly established Children’s Health Promotion Fund. This money would be used to provide grants to municipalities and schools to install safe and convenient drinking water fountains in schools, parks, and playgrounds; promote nutrition programs in preschools and childcare facilities serving low-income communities; expand the state’s successful Mass in Motion program; and support other evidence-based methods for improving children’s health and wellness.

Early results from jurisdictions that have implemented excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages are promising. After Berkeley, California, implemented a 1-cent-per-ounce tax in 2015, consumption of sugary drinks fell by 21 percent and water consumption increased by 63 percent in certain neighborhoods compared to cities without the tax.

Opponents argue that such a tax would cost jobs. However, the evidence indicates that there is likely to be little net impact on jobs, since many people simply shift their purchases to lower-sugar beverages. Another concern raised is that this tax would be regressive, falling more heavily on lower-income people. While this is true of all so-called “sin” taxes, the disease burden caused by high consumption of sugary drinks falls overwhelmingly on poorer communities. Furthermore, most of the tax revenue would be invested in these same communities, leading to even greater health benefits.

Prevention is the key to reducing rates of costly, preventable chronic diseases that are driving up healthcare costs. Reducing the high consumption of sugary drinks is one effective prevention strategy we should be aggressively pursuing.

Senator Jason Lewis
Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Public Health

Dr. Claire McCarthy
Pediatrician, Boston Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Column: Raise the tobacco sales age to 21

Many people are surprised to learn that tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts and across the country, despite the strides we have made in reducing cigarette smoking over the past few decades.

Treating tobacco-caused illnesses adds up to $4 billion in annual healthcare costs in Massachusetts. This burden falls on all of us, not just those who use tobacco. An additional $2.5 billion in economic productivity is also lost each year.

Ninety-five percent of tobacco users become addicted to nicotine before age 21. In fact, if you can stop a teenager from starting to use tobacco then it is very unlikely that she will start smoking as a young adult (or later in life). Fewer youth smokers today results in fewer adult smokers tomorrow.

Education and prevention efforts targeted at teens are critical to reducing their use of tobacco, as well as alcohol and other drugs. But finding more money to invest in these programs is always difficult given tight municipal and state budgets.

There is another strategy that does not cost any money and has proven to be very effective in reducing youth tobacco use: raising the minimum legal sales age from 18 to 21.

In 2005, the Town of Needham became the first municipality in the entire country to raise the tobacco sales age to 21. Within five years, the community’s smoking rate had plummeted. In the years since, 150 cities and towns in Massachusetts have followed this example, as well as many others around the country. Hawaii and California are the first two states to raise their legal tobacco age to 21 statewide.

Of course, raising the minimum legal sales age to 21 does not stop all teenagers from accessing tobacco products. But it does make it more difficult. This is because it helps to remove tobacco products from high school social networks. Most younger teens get tobacco products from older teens. Making it harder for 18 and 19 year olds to purchase tobacco will cut the supply to 15 and 16 year olds.

There are more than 800,000 tobacco users in the Commonwealth today. According to an analysis by the Institute of Medicine, raising the legal age from 18 to 21 would be expected to reduce the smoking population over time by 12 percent. This would be a tremendous public health success, saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars.

Some opponents of raising the minimum legal sales age make the argument that since 18 year olds can vote and serve in the military they are also old enough to purchase tobacco products if they so wish. But our society does not have a single, universal age of adulthood. You can get a driver’s license at 16, vote or serve on a jury at 18, and consume alcohol or set foot in a casino at 21. Some activities, such as renting a car, may even require you to be older than 21. We make each of these determinations by evaluating the risks and benefits to individuals and society at large.

Now is the time to act statewide. We have a patchwork of cities and towns across the Commonwealth with different legal sales ages for tobacco. This is confusing for retailers and consumers alike.

We urge the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker to act. Let’s save lives and dollars by raising the minimum legal sales age for tobacco from 18 to 21.

State Senator Jason Lewis
State Representative Paul McMurtry
Lynn Nicholas, President & CEO, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association

Originally run in CommonWealth Magazine.

Senate Clean Energy Future Tour to Stop in Melrose on May 15

The Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, of which Senator Jason Lewis is a member, is pleased to announce that the Massachusetts Senate Clean Energy Future Tour – a new, statewide committee initiative on clean energy, climate change, and constituent engagement – will be making a stop in Melrose to hear from our region’s residents regarding their climate, energy, and environmental concerns.

The Melrose tour stop will take place on Monday, May 15, at 6pm, in the GAR Room of Melrose Memorial Hall, 590 Main Street.  It is free and open to the public.

Set to begin on May 8, the Massachusetts Senate Clean Energy Future Tour will consist of nine public hearings in various communities across the Commonwealth, from the Berkshires to the Cape, to hear the thoughts and suggestions of constituents and stakeholders on clean energy and climate change issues. In these public hearings, committee members will hear the questions and suggestions of residents regarding clean energy and climate action in a forum-based fashion. This input will aid legislators in crafting policy and implementing the proper legislation for Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts must continue to move towards a green energy future to build a sustainable environment, grow jobs and reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. “The Clean Energy Future Tour will allow the Committee to hear the thoughts and desires directly from our residents on how we achieve our energy goals.”

“The communities in our region have taken great strides at the municipal level to advance energy efficiency,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “This tour stop will be an invaluable opportunity for community members to discuss local best practices on energy and environmental issues, as well as share concerns regarding the impact of climate change and related issues.  My Senate colleagues are eager to hear the stories that our local communities have to tell.”

Clean energy now employs 105,212 workers across the Commonwealth, an increase of 75 percent, or 45,000 jobs, since 2010, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s annual Clean Energy Industry Report.  Clean energy employment in Massachusetts grew 6 percent between 2015 and 2016.  The clean energy sector has become an important part of the overall Massachusetts economy, contributing $11.8 billion in economic activity in 2015.  Over the last six years, Massachusetts has taken first place, among our 50 states, in the energy efficiency sector.  And in the U.S. as a whole, clean energy jobs outnumber coal and gas jobs 5 to 1.

Real-time scheduling information, including dates, locations, and times of the hearings, can be found on the tour’s website at malegislature.gov/cleanenergyfuture.

Residents can also use social media to voice their thoughts and are encouraged to tweet their energy and climate ideas to the committee at @MACleanFuture and/or use the hashtag #MACleanFuture.

Senate Kids First Working Group Releases “Kids First” Strategic Blueprint

Members of the Senate Kids First working group, including Senator Jason Lewis, released Kids First: A Vision for a Stronger Commonwealth, a strategic blueprint for investing in children and their families to build pathways to successful, productive, and healthy adulthood.

For the last fifteen years, Massachusetts has seen roughly 40% of its third graders overall – and 6 out of 10 low-income third graders – not reading at grade level, highlighting the shortcomings of our early education efforts and the steep challenges of future efforts to close the achievement gap.  Kids First proposes the goal of reducing by at least half the number of third-graders who are not reading proficiently by 2027.

To dramatically increase third grade reading proficiency rates and support the whole child, the Senate’s Kids First initiative has established four broad areas within which to focus specific strategies: Access, Quality, Readiness, and Integration.  These four pillars provide the foundation on which all policy recommendations in Kids First are centered.

“We can help hundreds of thousands of children stay in school, stay out of jail, and lead productive and successful lives, or we can continue to pay the price of neglecting them.  Investing in our children is one of the best returns around, and improving third grade reading proficiency is the place to start,” said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.  “I’m very proud of the Kids First working group.”

“I am proud of the comprehensive vision put forth in the Kids First blueprint,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “In it, the Senate makes a vital commitment to the fundamental integration of services in critical areas including mental health and social-emotional learning.  The social-emotional learning component of Kids First is essential to strengthening the critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills of our young people.  Kids First will serve as an invaluable guide, and it was a privilege to serve on the working group.”

Senate President Rosenberg created the Kids First initiative to propose a series of recommendations that seek to build strong and resilient kids in the Commonwealth.  Together, Senate President Rosenberg and Kids First initiative chair Senator Sal DiDomenico of Everett convened a cross-jurisdictional working group of senators to look comprehensively at a wide array of policy areas that relate to supporting children.  The Kids First working group invited experts in diverse fields including early childhood development, health, education, housing, and nutrition, among others, to share their knowledge through questionnaires, meetings, and presentations.

“Building strong and resilient children should, and must, be our Commonwealth’s number one priority, and achieving this goal requires our devotion to this commitment at every step of a child’s educational, social, and economic upbringing” said Senator Sal DiDomenico, chair of the Senate’s Kids First initiative. “I am proud of the strategic vision and values laid out by the Senate in Kids First, and I am confident that this document will provide our Commonwealth with a critical road map of steps we must take to make serious, significant, and sustained investments in our children’s futures.”

“If we are serious about closing the persistent achievement gap, we know that we must start earlier and consider opportunities to connect health, education, and housing,” said Amy O’Leary, Director of Early Education for All.

After collecting extensive input, the Senate working group crafted a vision statement of strategic priorities, including budget and policy recommendations, selected to re-orient Massachusetts towards a 21st century education system and to begin prioritizing long-term, smart, and strategic investments in children and their families that will provide a pathway to healthy, productive adulthood.  While this initiative is broad in scope, from pre-natal to college/career, the focus and content of this Senate vision statement is on the critical years of birth through age 9.

The plan laid out in Kids First is not meant as a blueprint for omnibus legislation or any piece of legislation in particular.  Rather, it is offered as a statement of the Senate’s vision for children and a statement of budgetary priorities in the years to come.  A link to the blueprint can be found online at https://malegislature.gov/cc/reports/kidsfirstblueprint.pdf.

Column: Improving Access to Quality Healthcare

Massachusetts is home to more than 32,000 primary care and specialist physicians, and many highly regarded hospitals and other healthcare providers. Nevertheless, many residents report difficulties accessing the care they need.

According to a recent survey by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, among adults who had insurance for the entire previous year, 47% said they had experienced difficulty seeing a doctor. This was because they could not find a provider who accepted their insurance or was accepting new patients, or because they could not get an appointment as soon as needed. The severity of the problem varies by region in the state, and is particularly acute for primary care doctors.

This situation is likely to worsen in the years ahead since, according to the Association for American Medical College’s Center for Workforce Studies, the United States is expected to face a shortage of more than 130,000 physicians by 2025 and a deficit of 918,000 registered nurses by 2030.

One of the strategies we should be pursuing to close this gap and improve access to quality healthcare for all residents of the Commonwealth is to take better advantage of foreign-trained medical professionals. An estimated 12,000 Massachusetts residents are foreign-trained doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, or other healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, more than 20% of these practitioners are unemployed or working in lower-skilled jobs that do not take full advantage of their talents and expertise. They face a number of barriers to working in their chosen professions in Massachusetts, including shortages of residency placements, limited access to information about licensure, complex and costly licensing requirements, and minimal hands-on clinical experience.

Marrying this pool of unused talent with a population in need of better access to services would help us to better meet our healthcare needs and expand opportunity at the same time. Research shows that foreign-trained clinicians are more likely to work in underserved areas; and, when they do, they can significantly improve health outcomes. Minority physicians and physicians of color also serve a disproportionate share of underserved populations, including patients with limited English skills. Research also suggests that greater diversity in the healthcare workforce, particularly better racial and cultural concordance, can improve clinical outcomes.

I first became aware of this issue as a result of conversations with a constituent who lives in Malden. Dr. Afsaneh Moradi came to Massachusetts in 2011 from Iran, where she had graduated from medical school and practiced as a primary care physician. She subsequently passed all three steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). Unfortunately, although graduates of U.S. medical schools gain residency placements nine out of ten times, international medical school graduates who have successfully passed the USMLE are only placed at a rate of roughly five out of ten. Despite having graduated in the top 1% of her class and having already practiced medicine for seven years in her home country, as well as committing a lot of her time to volunteering and unpaid observerships, Dr. Moradi is still waiting to land a residency slot. Her life-saving talent remains under-utilized and her potential patients remain lacking for adequate access to quality healthcare.

To help address this problem I have filed An Act to Increase Access to Health Care in Underserved Areas of Massachusetts. This legislation would create an inter-agency commission to identify barriers to practice for foreign-trained medical professionals and ways to overcome these barriers, with the goal of directing their services especially to rural and underserved areas with the greatest need. The commission would identify state or national licensing regulations that pose unnecessary barriers to practice; recommend possible changes to state licensing requirements; and, develop guidelines for full or conditional licensing of foreign-trained health professionals.

For Dr. Moradi and others stuck in a similar situation, and for the many Massachusetts residents who need better access to care, I’m hopeful this bill will become law.

Senator Jason Lewis Named by Governor Baker to STEM Advisory Board

Governor Charlie Baker recently named 29 appointed and 10 ex officio members, including Senator Jason Lewis, to the Massachusetts STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Advisory Council. The STEM Advisory Council strives to expand access to quality STEM education for students across the Commonwealth.

Senator Lewis was named an ex officio member of the Council in his capacity as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.  Senator Lewis also serves as a member of the Joint Committee on Education.

The STEM Advisory Council began its work by undertaking an exploratory process to determine where the Council could have the most impact. The Council endorsed four areas on which to focus its work: expanding work-based learning opportunities in STEM fields; developing and implementing early college career pathways; broadening access to high-quality computer science and engineering education; and, strengthening and aligning the work of the Regional STEM Networks.

“STEM industries continue to grow rapidly across the Commonwealth and help strengthen our nation-leading innovation economy,” said Governor Baker. “In order for Massachusetts to continue capitalizing in STEM, it’s important we continue to expose our students to these industries and I look forward to the work the advisory council will take on this year.”

“Education in the STEM fields has proven to be a strong foundation for in-demand jobs and attractive careers,” said Senator Lewis.  “I look forward to working with colleagues on the STEM Advisory Council to explore opportunities to further expand educational opportunities for all students.”

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimates that, during the next decade, U.S. industries will need one million more STEM graduates than the system is expected to produce.  Despite the need, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that just 1 in 6 high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in pursuing STEM higher education or careers.

Created by M.G.L. Chapter 6, Section 218, the Council brings together representatives from state agencies and the Legislature, as well as public and private sector partners involved with STEM planning and programming.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives “Friend of Nursing” Award from American Nurses Association-Massachusetts

Citing his strong support for the nursing profession and for safeguarding public health, the American Nurses Association-Massachusetts (ANA Mass) presented Senator Jason Lewis the “Friend of Nursing” award at their recent annual Awards Dinner and Conference.  ANA Mass’ mission is to advance the profession of nursing and the quality of patient care across the Commonwealth.

In presenting Senator Lewis with this award, ANA Mass President Cathleen Colleran stressed that Senator Lewis has been “very supportive of the issues that face the nursing practice at the State House” in his role as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, and also mentioned his work to ensure that public health is put ahead of industry profits in the legalization of commercial marijuana.

In his remarks upon receiving the award, Senator Lewis said that he is looking forward to continuing to work with ANA Mass on a number of important issues, including safe patient handling, reducing workplace violence, and modernizing the scope of practice for nurse practitioners. He added that “it is unacceptable that there are more injuries suffered by nurses in hospitals and other healthcare facilities than workers in any other employment setting. We must do more to ensure the safety and well-being of nurses in the Commonwealth.”

Senator Lewis served as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health during the 2015-2016 legislative session, and continues in that role during the current 2017-2018 session, along with the newly added role of Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

Column: Local Economic Development a Top Priority

Small businesses are routinely referred to as the backbone of our economy for good reason.  They are the economic engines of our communities’ Main Streets.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Massachusetts is home to 615,775 small businesses, which employ more than 1.4 million workers, about half of the state’s private workforce.  Small businesses make up 97.8% of all employers in the state.

Because the vitality of small businesses in the Commonwealth is so integral to our overall economic health, bolstering local economic growth and development has always been one of my highest priorities.  Among my legislative agenda for the new legislative session are three priority bills that I have filed to facilitate economic growth on our Main Streets and revitalize our downtowns.

An Act Relative to Promoting Local Economic Development would create a program to provide funding or other opportunities, such as technical assistance, to municipalities or regions that maximize opportunities for economic development planning and growth by meeting a series of criteria. These criteria would include a self-assessment of economic potential and the identification of unique strengths and assets. This bill borrows the conceptual structure of the Green Communities program, which provides funding opportunities for municipalities that reduce and improve their use of energy, and would be administered through the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

An Act Relative to Marketing Prioritized Development Sites would require the Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD) to create and maintain a statewide searchable database of developable land and vacant sites, with listings submitted at no cost by local officials. This database would create a more comprehensive online marketing portal than currently exists for all locally prioritized sites across the state, giving each city and town the equal opportunity to submit prioritized development sites for inclusion.

An Act Establishing the Office of Massachusetts Main Streets would create an office within state government to operate as the principal agency for promoting and protecting the downtown and commercial districts of our cities and towns.  The Office of Massachusetts Main Streets would provide informational, marketing, and technical assistance, as well as coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to further enhance our downtown and commercial districts.

A vitally important role for state government is to be a supportive partner for municipal governments and the business community as we work to strengthen our local economies and create jobs.  In concert with one another, these bills would enhance the ability of our cities and towns to take advantage of all opportunities to economically grow and thrive through increased resources and more comprehensive planning, as well as provide support and guidance for entrepreneurs and small businesses in our communities.

I welcome your feedback on how we can better support our Main Streets and foster growth in our local economies.  Please visit my website at www.SenatorJasonLewis.com to share your thoughts, or contact my State House office anytime at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or at (617) 722-1206.