Senator Jason Lewis Appointed Chair of Senate Special Committee on Marijuana

Senator Jason Lewis has been appointed by Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg to serve as the Chair of the Senate’s newly created Special Committee on Marijuana for the 2015-2016 legislative term.

Given the expectation that an initiative petition to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts may be on the ballot in the 2016 election, following the direction that a number of other states across the country have taken in recent years, the purpose of the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana is to be proactive in researching and analyzing potential ramifications if Massachusetts were to move in that direction.

The special committee will review Massachusetts’ experience to date with changes in marijuana policy, as well as lessons to be learned from other states, particularly Colorado, that have already legalized marijuana.  This review will consider a wide variety of information on relevant issues, including public health, public safety, economic and financial impacts, regulatory frameworks, and compliance with federal law.

“I look forward to commencing the work of the committee in undertaking an in-depth and comprehensive review of the best available data and evidence concerning the potential impacts, costs, and benefits of marijuana legalization,” said Senator Lewis.  “I commend Senate President Stan Rosenberg for his leadership in seeking to proactively address this important issue.”

“As Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, Senator Lewis’ experience and knowledge of public health issues will allow him to take an in-depth look at the issues surrounding both medical and recreational marijuana.  This is an issue that is changing quickly in the public landscape, and we as a legislature need to be proactive about learning as much as we can about the issues surrounding marijuana,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg.  “Senator Lewis has the work ethic, intellect, and knowledge to take on this task, and I look forward to the results of the committee.”

In addition to his role as Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana, Senator Lewis also serves in a leadership capacity as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Steering and Policy.  Additionally, Senator Lewis serves as a member of the Joint Committees on Education; Labor and Workforce Development; and, Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities; as well as the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee.

Column: Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform

We recently celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a good time to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and the state of civil rights today.

Many people are surprised to learn that Dr. King had a strong connection to the City of Boston and to Massachusetts.  Indeed, he often referred to Boston as his second home. In the 1950s, he studied at Boston University where he earned his doctorate.  And, it was in Boston that he met Coretta Scott, a student at the New England Conservatory, who would become his wife.

This year is the 50th anniversary of an important speech that Dr. King delivered to a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature on April 22, 1965.  The day after that speech, he led what was described as Boston’s first giant freedom march.

I imagine that Dr. King was drawn to Massachusetts, at least in part, because of our legacy of being at the forefront of civil rights and human rights in American history.  For hundreds of years, Massachusetts has stood as a beacon of progress, advancing equality and opportunity for all people.  The first woman to legally vote in the American colonies was Lydia Taft of Uxbridge, back in 1756.  Massachusetts was one of the first states to abolish slavery in the 1780s.  In the middle of the 19th century, Horace Mann championed universal public education for all children.  And, of course, in recent years we were the first state to recognize same-sex marriage.

But, if Dr. King were still alive today, I think he would be dismayed that, even here in Massachusetts, we still have a long way to go to realize his dream of true racial equality and justice for all.  There are those who believe that with a black president in the White House — and a just recently departed black governor in Massachusetts — we are now living in a colorblind society.  They should read Michelle Alexander’s powerful and devastating book, The New Jim Crow.  This book, which lays bare the truth about mass incarceration and racial injustice, along with recent events we have all witnessed in Ferguson, New York, and elsewhere, should make it abundantly clear that, sadly, our society is still far from colorblind.

Consider this shocking statistic here in Massachusetts: people of color make up about 20% of our state’s population, yet almost 80% of those convicted of drug offenses are black or Hispanic, despite the fact that all races abuse drugs at roughly equal levels.

Given the growing awareness that our criminal justice system is far from colorblind and that mass incarceration is costing taxpayers enormous amounts of money, I’m hopeful that the Massachusetts legislature will seriously tackle criminal justice reform during this new legislative session.  Some of the areas that I believe we need to reform include getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, bail reform, strengthening diversion programs that provide treatment rather than incarceration for mental health and substance abuse, and making it easier for those who have served their time to reintegrate into the community and become productive members of society.  These reforms would not only make our criminal justice system more just, they would also make our communities safer and save tens of millions of dollars in scarce public resources.

A number of other states are actually ahead of Massachusetts in implementing these kinds of reforms, including Texas, Colorado, and Mississippi.  Criminal justice reform presents an excellent opportunity for bipartisan solutions.

As Martin Luther King said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  We can continue the work of Dr. King by tackling today’s civil rights challenge of criminal justice reform.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed Senate Chair of Legislature’s Public Health Committee

Senator Jason Lewis is very pleased to announce that he has been appointed by Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to serve as the Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health for the 2015-2016 legislative term.

Senator Lewis brings experience leading the Public Health Committee.  When Senator Lewis served in the state House of Representatives, he served as House Vice Chair of the Public Health Committee from January of 2011 until his special election to the Senate in April 2014.  Senator Lewis also serves as Senate co-Chair of the Legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus, which he helped found in 2011.

“I am enthusiastic to have the opportunity to help shape public policy at the committee level on a wide array of issues relating to public health,” said Senator Lewis.  “I look forward to continuing my work on containing healthcare costs and promoting healthy communities and disease prevention, as well as working on related issues of mental health and drug addiction.”

Senator Lewis’ legislative record includes a number of successes in the area of strengthening public health.  He led the effort to create a first-in-the-nation Prevention and Wellness Trust, which has allotted $60 million to community-based public health and wellness programs across the Commonwealth, aimed at reducing rates of preventable chronic diseases and lowering healthcare costs.

Senator Lewis also introduced legislation signed into law by Governor Patrick that ensures a sustainable and secure funding source is available so that all children in Massachusetts have access to all recommended immunizations.  Additionally, signed into law as part of a transportation bond bill, Senator Lewis’s proposal to create an Active Streets Certification Program was passed.  The program will provide $50 million in funding for local communities to help them implement complete streets design elements that promote increased physical activity and wellness, as well as support local businesses.

In addition to his role as Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, Senator Lewis received his full slate of committee assignments.  He will serve as Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Steering and Policy, the influential committee that helps shape the state Senate’s agenda and advises the Senate President on legislative issues.  Senator Lewis will also serve as a member of the Joint Committees on Education; Labor and Workforce Development; and, Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities; as well as the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee.

Column: An Agenda to Strengthen Our Communities

I believe that our communities are best served when our state legislators work in close partnership with residents, local businesses, community leaders and local elected officials.  Working together, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made since last April when I was first elected to represent the Fifth Middlesex district in the state Senate.

Last week, I was honored to be sworn in as State Senator for the 2015-2016 legislative session which began on January 7.  I’m eager to continue our work in this new legislative session on behalf of the residents of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and Winchester.

My first priority will continue to be promoting local economic development opportunities and securing resources for important needs in our communities.  When the legislature once again tackles the state budget in the months ahead, I will focus on advocating for critical resources for our communities, including Chapter 70 education funds, unrestricted local aid, the special education circuit breaker, elder services, veterans programs, public health and other essential programs and services upon which our communities depend.  Transportation and infrastructure investment is also critical to public safety and local economic development; I will continue to work collaboratively with our municipal leaders to address needs in these areas.

Another key priority will be updating and reforming our education funding formula to ensure that all our public schools receive adequate and equitable funding from the state.  I’m excited that after many years of championing this issue, the legislature has now established a Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission.  This Commission has already begun meeting and holding public hearings around the state to collect input and ideas from school officials, teachers, parents, and citizens.  I’m hopeful that the Commission’s recommendations, expected later this year, will provide clear direction and an impetus for action from the legislature and our new Governor, Charlie Baker.

Healthcare has also been a signature agenda item for me in the past and will continue to be during this new legislative session.  Working to contain healthcare costs while improving quality and affordability has been the aim.  We have had success by focusing on opportunities for investing in preventative care, and I will seek to expand on this in the years ahead.  I believe we must also urgently focus more attention and resources on treating mental health and substance abuse in our communities.

Because our economy thrives when everyone has access to opportunity, issues of economic justice —  working for greater shared prosperity, reducing poverty, helping working families, and supporting our communities’ small businesses and entrepreneurs — will be of paramount importance as we move forward and will continue to be a legislative priority for me.

Finally, we must continue to improve transparency and accountability in state government.  We have made significant strides in recent years with major reforms in many areas, but with resources already stretched thin we will need to pursue innovative ideas and new opportunities, such as social impact bonds, to deliver services and programs as smartly and efficiently as possible.

Your input and feedback are always welcome.  Please contact my office anytime at (617) 722-1206 or, visit us at the State House, or attend regular Office Hours which we hold across the district.  My staff and I will always be available to offer our assistance in any way we can.

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

Wakefield Delegation Announces Passage of Wakefield Veterans Funds Bills

The Wakefield state legislative delegation, including Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Paul Brodeur and Donald Wong, is pleased to announce that, in one of his last acts as Governor, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law two Wakefield home rule petitions.  The new laws allow for the creation of voluntary check-off boxes on municipal tax bills giving Wakefield taxpayers the option of donating directly to the “Wakefield Veterans Relief Fund” and the “Wakefield Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Celebration Fund.”

The Wakefield Veterans Relief Fund supports Wakefield military veterans and their dependents in need of immediate assistance, including, but not limited to, commercial food cards and heating and oil assistance.  The Wakefield Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Celebration Fund will help finance the creation and restoration of monuments and other activities in Wakefield that honor the contributions and sacrifices of Wakefield’s military veterans.

“Wakefield clearly appreciates their veterans and continually provides avenues of support that improve veteran quality of life,” said Ryan McLane, Director of Veteran Services for Melrose-Wakefield-Saugus.  “This is the type of measure that provides long-term sustainable support to our veterans, and we appreciate the hard work of the Wakefield Veterans Advisory Board and the legislative delegation in making this happen.”

“We can never do enough for our veterans,” said Stephen Maio, Wakefield Town Administrator.  “This legislation will allow all citizens to say ‘thank you for your service’ in a meaningful and convenient manner.  I am grateful for the support of our citizens and the hard work of our entire legislative delegation in securing this passage.”

“We are truly grateful for, and sincerely admire, the brave and selfless service of our military veterans,” said Senator Lewis.  “I am very happy that the signing of these bills into law will give the residents of Wakefield more opportunities to offer support for our veterans.”

“The residents of Wakefield have always been incredibly supportive of our veterans,” said Representative Brodeur.  “I know they will take this opportunity to generously support our veterans, and celebrate and honor their service through these funds.”

“It is with great pleasure to announce that we were able to pass the two Wakefield veterans bills,” said Representative Wong.  “I’m pleased to know that the residents of the Town of Wakefield will have the opportunity to show their appreciation for and give back to our veterans.”

Senator Jason Lewis’ West Nile Virus Prevention Legislation Signed Into Law

Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce that Governor Deval Patrick, in one of his last acts as Governor, signed into law Senator Lewis’ legislation to strengthen municipalities’ ability to combat the mosquito-borne disease West Nile Virus.

Senator Lewis’ legislation returns to municipal public works employees and seasonal workers the authority to apply relatively non-toxic pesticides into storm drains and catch basins to control Culex mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile Virus.  Between 2001 and 2009, public works employees were authorized to use pesticides in this manner; but, in 2010, the Department of Agricultural Resources opted not to renew that authorization, leaving licensed professional pesticide applicators as the only authorized population.

The legislation comes with an “emergency preamble” provision, which means that the law takes effect immediately, allowing municipalities to begin planning for the 2015 mosquito season with the policy fully in effect.

“It is critically important that our communities have the tools needed to proactively combat the spread of serious diseases like West Nile Virus,” said Senator Lewis.  “This legislation returns to municipal officials the authority to use the tools at their disposal to safeguard the public health for residents of our cities and towns.”

With a surge in cases of West Nile Virus in recent years, public health advocates and municipal officials have been calling for the restoration of this policy.

“The passage of this legislation is very important for public health in that local government will be allowed to directly provide critical protection measures to control mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus,” said Jennifer Murphy, Director of the Health Department for the Town of Winchester.  “This prevention service will be provided in a timely, cost-effective and safe manner, and is a critical step in protecting public health by reducing the risk of these mosquito-borne diseases.”

“Restoration of the catchbasin larviciding permit will allow the state and municipalities to respond quickly if we experience a recurrence of the events of 2012 when state officials recognized by early July that a high risk of West Nile Virus was developing,” noted David Henley, Superintendent of the East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project.

“On behalf of cities and towns across the state, we applaud Senator Lewis for his leadership in enacting this important legislation to enhance public health and safety,” said Geoffrey C. Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.  “Thanks to Senator Lewis and his colleagues in the Legislature, communities now have the authority and ability to effectively reduce the spread of and exposure to West Nile Virus — simply put, this new law will save lives every year,” Beckwith said.

Column: Carry the Spirit of Giving Into the New Year

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

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

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

Here are just a few examples of the people I have had the privilege of meeting — and being inspired by — in recent months:

  • A chef at a shelter for homeless men and women who prepares thousands of nutritious meals each week on an incredibly tight budget, and who could instead be working as the head chef at a five star Boston restaurant;
  • A college student whose parents escaped from terrible hardship in El Salvador and now volunteers to help other immigrant children trying to learn English and become fully assimilated into American life;
  • A high school teacher who runs a project with her students to document and preserve local military history and to foster greater recognition and appreciation for our veterans;
  • A senior citizen who serves as a volunteer board member for one of our local public housing authorities and is a tireless activist for affordable housing and other services for seniors and people with disabilities;
  • A mother concerned about the well-being of high school seniors on their graduation night who is organizing an all-night event where graduates can celebrate with their friends in a fun, safe and substance-free environment;
  • A real estate developer who worked for years with local officials, government agencies, and a social service provider to transform a rooming house into a beautiful group home for 12 low-income adults with developmental disabilities; and,
  • A community activist who has been working for more than 20 years to turn an abandoned rail corridor into a greenway and bikeway that will beautify our communities and provide safe recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

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

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

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

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?”  If you want to discuss local volunteer or charitable opportunities, please feel free to contact my office at (617) 722-1206 or 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.

Senator Jason Lewis Testifies Before Education Funding Commission

The Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission recently held its first public hearing, and Senator Jason Lewis was pleased to deliver testimony to the Commission on behalf of the 5th Middlesex state senate district.

The Foundation Budget Review Commission will enable a careful and thorough examination of current educational needs and best practices, an important step toward achieving more adequate and equitable funding for our public schools through the Chapter 70 funding formula.  The Commission was created by a provision in the Fiscal Year 2015 Massachusetts state budget that was championed by Senator Lewis.

“With actual school spending outpacing the Foundation Budget, our schools are under enormous financial pressure,” noted Senator Lewis.  “It is imperative that we take the steps necessary to update the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget in order to achieve truly adequate and equitable funding for our public schools.  From new technology to extended learning time, there are necessities we must address to ensure that every student in the Commonwealth has the opportunity to thrive.  This Commission will provide an important opportunity to raise these urgent issues, and that is why I was proud to champion the Commission’s creation.”

The first hearing of the Foundation Budget Review Commission took place in Danvers on November 17.  The coming months will see additional hearings in different regions of the state, culminating with a March 9, 2015, hearing in Boston, at a location to be determined.

Senator Lewis’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.  Please note that remarks were limited to three minutes per person and that Senator Lewis will be preparing extended testimony in written form for submission to the Foundation Budget Review Commission as it proceeds with its hearings over the coming months.


State Senator Jason Lewis’ Testimony before the
Massachusetts Foundation Budget Review Commission
As Prepared for Delivery – November 17, 2014

Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Peisch, and Commission Members, I thank you for your service on this very important Foundation Budget Review Commission.  Like many of you, I have long advocated for the need to re-examine and update the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget, so I’m very pleased that this Commission has been formed and I appreciate the opportunity to offer my testimony today.

From the passage of the landmark Education Reform Act in 1993 until 2000, the Foundation Budget quite closely reflected actual changes in educational resource needs and expenses.  However, in the years since 2000, the Foundation Budget has risen an average of 3.4% per year, while actual net school spending has grown at an average of 4.1% per year.  As a result, the average school district in Massachusetts now spends approximately 120% of Foundation Budget.

The fact that the Foundation Budget no longer accurately reflects actual educational needs has put virtually every school district under enormous financial pressure, and has contributed to a widening of the gap between higher-income and lower-income districts, exactly the opposite of what we set out to achieve with the Education Reform Act.

The situation we find ourselves in is the result of a number of factors that have been identified in numerous reports over the past several years.  The two largest drivers of actual costs that have exceeded assumptions in the Foundation Budget are health insurance and special education.  We know that both of these cost drivers are largely beyond the control of our school departments or cities and towns.

Two other cost categories that were envisioned in the original Foundation Budget but have not kept pace with actual changes in educational needs and best practices are technology and extended learning time.  Consider that the Internet barely existed when the Foundation Budget was first established, and that the role of technology in our society and our schools is far greater today than it was in 1993.  Similarly, we now understand much better the importance of additional time — through longer school days or longer school years — to provide the academic and enrichment opportunities for students from high poverty neighborhoods that are vital to closing persistent achievement gaps.  I have seen the impact first-hand through two schools in my district, the Ferryway and Salemwood K-8 schools in Malden.  These two schools have made significant progress with grant funding through the state’s modest ELT initiative, but this funding source is both inadequate and likely unsustainable.  To remedy this, I believe that this funding needs to be part of the Foundation Budget.

Finally, I want to briefly mention three other significant areas that I believe deserve serious consideration as to how they should be treated in the Foundation Budget: first, library media services that are an essential component of a 21st Century education; second, full-day kindergarten which should in my opinion be available to all families at no additional cost; and, third, wraparound services or integrated student supports that are increasingly viewed as an essential complement to academic supports for at-risk children.  These services range from school-based medical and dental care to behavioral health and mental health to social work and family crisis response.

Massachusetts was once the pioneer in education reform and establishing a Foundation Budget-based school funding formula.  I hope with the help of this Commission we will once again lead the nation in ensuring that our school finance system enables every school and every student to thrive and be successful.

Column: Supporting Our Veterans

With Veterans Day occurring this week and with the holiday season approaching, we should keep in mind and give thanks to the troops who are serving our country today and the veterans who have served in the past.  These are the self-sacrificing men and women who, along with the sacrifices of their families, have made possible the freedom and opportunity that we enjoy.

It feels very appropriate to me that Veterans Day comes shortly after Election Day.  It is a reminder that the freedoms we put into practice in our democratic process are protected year-round by brave, selfless patriots.

There are roughly 375,000 veterans living in Massachusetts today.  Since September 11, 2001, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have returned home from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 142 soldiers from Massachusetts have been killed in action.  Those that have served make noble efforts to avoid recognition and to quietly and humbly go about their lives.

With a new generation of veterans returning home, we must remain steadfast in our efforts to support their reintegration into our communities.  As George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

The need to support our veterans remains great.  One in every three homeless individuals in the Commonwealth is a veteran.  It is estimated that one in three Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the invisible wounds of war.  We owe it to our heroic veterans to do all we can for them as they return home.

Massachusetts has long been a national leader in the quality and comprehensiveness of the veterans services that we provide on a state and local level.  Our support goes above and beyond federal VA benefits, and includes education benefits, housing and employment assistance, healthcare, and financial assistance when needed.

I’m very proud to have supported the “Veterans’ Allowances, Labor, Outreach, and Recognition” (VALOR II) bill that became law earlier this year.  VALOR II ensures that Massachusetts remains the number one state in the country in providing services, benefits, and resources for our veterans and their families.

Some highlights of the bill include: requiring the Division of Professional Licensure to waive application fees for members of the armed forces; establishing a Veterans’ Home Modification Program through Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission for injured returning veterans and their families; codifying and streamlining the property tax exemption for paraplegic veterans and their spouses; increasing penalties for the disturbance of military funerals or services; reducing burdens on students enrolled in postsecondary institutions who are called to active duty; and, taking steps to further crack down on veteran charity fraud.

There are many ways we can all honor the sacrifices made by our troops and veterans and show our gratitude.  Hire a veteran in your business.  Send a care package to soldiers overseas.  Volunteer at a VA soup kitchen this holiday season.  Get involved with Helping Our Troops (, a wonderful local organization founded by two Stoneham veterans, Frank Geary and Walter Kopek.

As we appreciate our families and good fortune this holiday season, let’s remember the words of John F. Kennedy who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

I welcome your feedback on how we can better support our veterans.  Please visit my website at to share your thoughts, or contact my State House office anytime at or at (617) 722-1206.

Column: Supporting Our Senior Citizens

Since 1930, the life expectancy for the average American has gone up from about 60 years to approaching 80 years.  As our life expectancies grow higher, we must do all we can to ensure that our senior citizens remain integrated in the fabric of our community.  From housing to healthcare to transportation and more, we have a responsibility to make sure that all aspects of civic life continue to be accessible for and inclusive of our senior citizens.

During my time in the Legislature, supporting our seniors has been a high priority for me, especially when it comes to our annual state budget.  I’m pleased that our Fiscal Year 2015 state budget successfully reflected this value.  We achieved many successes in strengthening resources for seniors in this year’s budget.

For instance, during this past legislative session, the “formula grant” for our Councils on Aging was increased from $7 per elder per year to $8 per elder per year.  What this led to was an increase in funding for the Councils on Aging from $9.4 million in FY13 to $10.5 million last year to over $11.6 million this year.  Another major achievement this past legislative session was the elimination of wait lists for home care thanks to additional funding committed to our home care programs.  Additionally, $750,000 in the FY15 budget was designated specifically to protect the Meals on Wheels program.

Beyond the budget, we also passed important legislation pertaining to unique needs of senior citizens.  This year, we passed legislation to create an Alzheimer’s and related dementias Acute Care Advisory Committee to craft strategies to address dementia-capable care in all acute care settings.  We also passed legislation clarifying and strengthening protections surrounding the process for determining jurisdiction in cases of adult guardianship and protective proceedings.

Still, there are key legislative initiatives that did not get passed during the 2013-2014 legislative session that I will be advocating for next year.  For example, the “spouse as caregiver” bill unanimously passed the Senate but unfortunately did not make it to the Governor’s desk.  That bill would simply allow spouses to join the already-existing list of family members who can currently be paid to be a Personal Care Attendant or Adult Foster Care provider.  Another important piece of legislation is the “Personal Needs Allowance” bill to modestly increase the allowance provided to nursing/rest home residents to cover costs not covered by MassHealth, allowing those senior citizens to live with greater independence and dignity.

As in years past, to alleviate some of the unique burdens that property taxes can create for seniors in particular, we have the senior “Circuit Breaker” tax credit in Massachusetts, which allows seniors to claim a tax credit of up to $1,030 (the maximum last year) if their property tax and water & sewer bills exceed 10% of their income.  Seniors who rent can count 25% of their rent as real estate tax payments.

Keeping our seniors safe in our communities is another critically important goal.  To offer further protections for our senior citizens, the Legislature committed funds in the FY15 budget to establish a financial abuse specialist team that will assist elder protective service workers.  This follows recommendations drafted by the Elder Protective Services Commission to aggressively address neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation of our senior citizens.

This is especially urgent as the Middlesex Sheriff’s office has noted a number of telephone scams targeting senior citizens this year.  The most frequent scam involves callers fraudulently claiming to be collecting money allegedly owed to the IRS.  If you or someone you know receives a fraudulent call of this nature, you are encouraged to alert your local police station as well as the Investigations Unit of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at 978-932-3220.

Another invaluable resource for our senior citizens, in addition to your community’s local Council on Aging and/or senior center, is Mystic Valley Elder Services (for residents of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, and Wakefield), or Minuteman Senior Services (for residents of Winchester), both of whom provide information, guidance, and services geared toward allowing seniors to continue living with greater independence and dignity.  If you are a senior citizen in the 5th Middlesex district with any questions about available services, feel free to contact Mystic Valley Elder Services at 781-324-7705 or Minuteman Senior Services at 781-272-7177 (depending on your community), or contact my State House office anytime at 617-722-1206.