Senator Jason Lewis Announces FY15 State Budget Successes

Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission an Important Step toward More Adequate and Equitable Funding

With the Massachusetts Legislature having overwhelmingly passed the state budget for the 2015 fiscal year, State Senator Jason Lewis is proud to announce a number of successes.

Senator Lewis played a lead role in achieving one of his top priorities for the budget: inclusion of the proposal for a Chapter 70 Education Foundation Budget Review Commission, which 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.

“In recent years, strong fiscal management and consistently on-time and balanced budgets have led to one of the largest rainy day funds in the nation and the highest bond rating in our Commonwealth’s history,” said Senator Lewis.  “I’m pleased that this budget continues on that path.  I’m also pleased that provisions I championed, including strengthening our Chapter 70 education aid through the Foundation Budget Review Commission, were included in the budget.”

Senator Lewis also secured $250,000 for the Mass in Motion program that promotes opportunities for healthier eating and more active living in our communities, strengthening our public health.  Currently, Malden, Melrose, and Wakefield are Mass in Motion communities.

“The Mass in Motion program has been an invaluable resource for communities seeking to affect positive change regarding choices residents make to eat, feel, and live healthier,” said Kara Showers, Mass in Motion Grant Coordinator and Wake-Up Youth Coordinator for the City of Melrose & Town of Wakefield Health Departments.  “We thank Senator Lewis for his forward-thinking leadership in securing these important public health resources.  Together we can make the healthy choice the easy choice!”

Further, Senator Lewis helped achieve a $3.9 million appropriation for Zoo New England, the non-profit that operates Stoneham’s Stone Zoo.  John Linehan, President and CEO of Zoo New England, said, “Senator Lewis has worked tirelessly in both the House and the Senate to advance the Zoos.  We are incredibly grateful to him for all of his support, and for recognizing the value that the Zoos bring to community and the Commonwealth.”

Now that the Legislature has passed the FY15 budget, it moves to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature.

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Column: Reflecting on the Fourth of July

I’m sure many of us are excited for our Fourth of July weekend plans, whether it involves travel to see family, some relaxation time at the beach, or grilling in the backyard.  However, at the risk of sounding cliché, I urge you to take a few moments to reflect on the meaning behind America’s Independence Day.

As a child, I never imagined that one day I might have the honor of serving in the Massachusetts Senate.  The reason for that, as you may know, is that I grew up in South Africa.  At that time, in the 1970’s, South Africa was under the grip of the racist apartheid regime, the embodied antithesis to the notion of all men being created equal.

One of the events that had a big impact on me was the Soweto Uprising in 1976 when I was eight years old.  Black students were protesting against the imposition of the Afrikaans language in their schools.  Afrikaans was the language spoken by the white minority apartheid government.  I was too young to fully understand what was happening, but I did understand enough to know that children like me were being shot and killed by the police.

My family was fortunate enough to be able to leave South Africa and immigrate to this great country when I was twelve-years-old.  The memory of apartheid has since fueled my personal commitment to fight for human rights and social justice.

For hundreds of years, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stood as a beacon of progress, advancing equality and opportunity for all people.  Indeed, it was right here that the movement began to divest from companies that were profiting from the regime in South Africa, ultimately helping to bring about the end of apartheid.

Consider the Commonwealth’s long and storied heritage of advancing equal rights.  The first woman to legally vote in the American colonies was Lydia Taft of Uxbridge.  Court decisions paved the way for Massachusetts to be one of the first states to abolish slavery in the 1780’s.  Of course, we’re all well aware of the Commonwealth’s historic standing as the first state to recognize same-sex marriage a decade ago.

It has now been 238 years since our nation, and my adopted homeland, declared its independence from Great Britain.  Despite the passage of time, we have not lost sight of the prevailing value, immortalized in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.”  That notion has been the foundation for our state’s and our nation’s morality for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.

So, as you’re spending time with friends and family, perhaps relaxing on that beach or flipping a burger on your grill, take a moment to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy that have been borne out of our nation’s independence.  Further, be inspired by the freedom that was made possible by the sacrifices of many who came before us to become even more involved in your community, in whatever form that spirit of volunteerism and civic engagement may take.

Senator Jason Lewis’ Shark Finning Legislation Passes Senate, Heads to Governor’s Desk

Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce that his legislation to eliminate the cruel shark fin trade in the Commonwealth unanimously passed the Massachusetts Senate today.  Having passed the House of Representatives in May, the bill will move to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature.

The practice of “shark finning,” which is both morally repugnant and harmful to the health of our oceans,  is when a shark’s fins are sliced off, often while the shark is still alive, with the mutilated shark thrown back into the ocean, unable to swim and left to die.  The fins are primarily used to make shark fin soup.  While the practice of shark finning is prohibited by both federal and state law, the market for fins continues to promote the practice in foreign and international waters.  Currently, more than a dozen restaurants and businesses in Massachusetts sell shark fin soup and shark fin products.

Senator Lewis’ legislation, H. 4088: An Act relative to ocean ecology and shark protection, will ban the import, sale, trade, or possession of shark fins in Massachusetts, to be enforced by the Department of Marine Fisheries.

“Taking steps to diminish this unspeakably inhumane practice isn’t just a moral issue about preventing cruelty to animals,” noted Senator Lewis.  “This is also an important environmental and economic issue.  Healthy shark populations are vital for a functioning ecosystem in our oceans.  Removing Massachusetts from participating in the cruel shark fin trade is the right thing to do morally, environmentally, and economically.”

In addition to having the support of a wide coalition of organizations, including the New England Aquarium and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), one of the bill’s most visible advocates has been Sean Lesniak, a nine-year-old activist from Lowell who has been fascinated by sharks since he was three-years-old and originally conceived of the proposal while watching Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

“Watching Shark Week, I found out that sharks were getting finned, and I wanted to do something about it.” said Lesniak.

“We’re thrilled that the Massachusetts Legislature is continuing to play a leadership role in promoting ocean health by protecting this critically important species and restricting market access to reduce the demand for shark fins,” said Meghan Jeans, Director of Conservation for the New England Aquarium.

“The MSPCA was excited to work with a broad coalition of conservation and animal protection organizations on this bill, demonstrating such strong support that it passed on its first time before the Legislature,” said Kara Holmquist, Director of Advocacy for the MSPCA.

Similar bans already exist in several other states and territories, including Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, New York, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

Governor Patrick is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.

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Column: Earned Sick Time: Protecting Our Workers, Our Public Health, and Our Economy

Did you know that nearly one million working people in Massachusetts, representing nearly one-third of our workforce, risk losing their pay and even their jobs if they have to take a sick day to care for themselves or a sick child?  This lack of security harms families, the public health, and our economy.

According to a 2010 study by the University of Chicago, nearly one-quarter of workers report that they have been fired, suspended, or otherwise disciplined or threatened for taking time off work due to personal illness or to care for a sick family member.  One in six workers has actually been fired.

Meanwhile, countless workers trudge to work even when they are battling a contagious illness that can impact co-workers.  For instance, the Boston Globe reported on a study of employees at the Staples office supply chain that found that nearly 80% of workers “said they come to work even when sick, an increase of 20 percent from a year ago.”   Staples further noted that “the flu virus is responsible for approximately 70 million missed workdays and an estimated $10 billion in lost office productivity.”  Sick workers spreading colds, flus, and other illnesses to co-workers no doubt exacerbated that finding.

A 2012 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that earned sick time policies reduce employee turnover, contagion, and lost productivity, saving Massachusetts employers $26 million annually.  Reducing turnover also prevents the need of employers to spend time, resources, and money finding and training new workers to replace workers who had been denied sick time.

Earned sick time policies also appear to not harm overall employment, and are actually a positive for job growth.  San Francisco’s paid sick days law took effect in 2007.  Looking at the immediate effect, between 2006 and 2010, total employment in San Francisco increased by 3.5% while employment in five neighboring counties decreased by 3.4%.  In other words, earned sick time is good for business and our economy, in addition to being good for our families and our public health.

That’s why I’m proud to have been a lead sponsor on a bill before the Legislature to establish earned paid sick time.  The policy would provide urgently needed stability for many families.  Two-thirds of workers without earned sick time make less than $24,000 a year, meaning that the loss of even a few days of pay could equal, say, the grocery bill for the month.

Currently, the legislative effort to implement earned sick time is held up in committee.  In case this legislative effort stalls on Beacon Hill, we have the back-up of a ballot initiative that will appear before voters this November calling for earned sick time.  Like with the effort to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts, activists from the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures of voters across the Commonwealth to accomplish this goal, revealing the broad, grassroots support for this urgently needed policy specifically and support for stronger economic justice policies more broadly.

Finally, here is the ultimate reminder of why earned sick time will benefit you personally, whether or not you already receive sick days from your employer.  A major study of the restaurant industry found that nearly two-thirds of cooks and servers report having worked at their restaurant while ill.  I’m sure you don’t want to put your health at risk because a line cook feared lost pay or a lost job for simply taking a much-needed sick day.

Passing earned sick time will meet the moral imperatives of providing families with more security, improving our public health, and strengthening economic justice, while also meeting the economic imperatives of actually saving money and reducing turnover in the workplace.

Author’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series focusing on economic justice policies pertaining to legislation that is currently before the Massachusetts Legislature and that will appear before voters on the November ballot.  The first part was on raising the minimum wage in the Commonwealth.

Senator Jason Lewis Secures Funds for Malden Community Conference Center in Senate Bond Bill

Senator Jason Lewis is very pleased to announce that he was successful in securing funds for the Malden Community Conference Center project in the capital bond bill passed by the Senate this week.  The conference center would be constructed in concert with the planned minor league baseball park currently in the development stage.

“Local economic development is one of my highest priorities, and this project promises to be an economic boon to Malden,” said Senator Lewis.  “The project will bring more jobs to Malden, and the completed facility will benefit the entire region economically and recreationally.  It is yet another statement that Malden is one of Massachusetts’ premier cities.”

Senator Lewis’ success securing the inclusion of the Malden Community Conference Center project in the Senate’s version of the capital bond bill follows Representative Paul Donato’s success achieving inclusion of the project in the state House of Representative’s version of the bill.

“This plan is a great investment for the citizens not only of Malden, but also the surrounding communities,” said Representative Donato. “I am looking forward to the economic benefits as well as the positive impact the development will have on the community.”

The Senate and House will now forge a compromise bill for final passage before it moves to the Governor’s desk.

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Senator Jason Lewis Receives State Senate Committee Assignments

Senator Jason Lewis announced today that he has received his full slate of committee assignments for the remainder of 2014, following his election to the Massachusetts Senate in a special election earlier this year.

Earlier this year, shortly after his being sworn in to the Senate, Senator Lewis was named as Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service.  The Public Service Committee has purview over legislation pertaining to the salaries, civil service, and retirement of public employees, as well as collective bargaining for state employees and other public employees.

Senator Lewis has also been placed on: the Joint Committee on Public Health; the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse; the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security; and, the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.

“I am enthusiastic to have the opportunity to help shape public policy on these important issues at the committee level,” said Senator Lewis.  “I am particularly excited to have received a seat on the influential Public Health committee, where I’ll have the ability to continue my work on containing healthcare costs and promoting healthy communities and disease prevention.”

Senator Lewis also serves as co-Chair of the Legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus, which he helped found in 2011.  Prior to his election to the Senate, then-Rep. Lewis served as the House Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health.

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Senator Jason Lewis’ West Nile Virus Prevention Legislation Passes House

Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce the passage in the state House of Representatives of his legislation to strengthen municipalities’ ability to combat the mosquito-borne disease West Nile Virus.

Senator Lewis’ bill would return to municipal public works employees and seasonal workers the authority to drop non-toxic pesticide pellets into storm drains and catch basins in an effort to eliminate breeding grounds for 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.

“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.  “My legislation will simply return to municipal officials the authority to use the tools at their disposal to safeguard the public health for residents of our cities and towns.”

“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.”

With a surge in cases of West Nile Virus in recent years, including two Massachusetts residents’ deaths attributed to mosquito-borne diseases in 2012, public health advocates and municipal officials have been calling for the restoration of this policy.  Having passed the House, the bill now awaits action in the Senate.

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Reading Delegation Announces Grant Awarded to Reading to Preserve Civil War History

Senator Jason Lewis, Representative Bradley H. Jones, and Representative James Dwyer are pleased to announce that the Town of Reading will receive a $7,500 grant for historical marker upgrades at Laurel Hill Cemetery through the Civil War Preservation grant program, as part of the recognition of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial).

The Civil War Preservation grant program, developed by the Massachusetts Commission for the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Veteran’s Services, encourages cities and towns to restore and preserve those pieces of history that remind us of the many lives lost during the American Civil War.

“Part of what makes our Commonwealth so unique is how our state’s history is so inextricably tied to our nation’s history,” said Senator Lewis.  “It is important that we preserve these invaluable reminders of our history so that we can best educate the next generation about their heritage, and inspire them to want to play an active role in shaping the next chapter of Massachusetts’ history.”

“The Civil War was a pivotal moment for both Massachusetts and the United States of America,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones. “By preserving various historical markings within Laurel Hill Cemetery, we will ensure that the history lessons found within the town of Reading will be available for the benefit of future generations.”

“The preservation of the history of our Commonwealth and our nation is needed to pass on the important lessons we have learned, and to honor those who fought for our freedoms and our nation,” said Rep. Dwyer. “This grant helps us pay tribute to those who have gone before us, who made sacrifices to make our country the great nation it is today.”

The Laurel Hill Cemetery has over 200 Civil War soldiers interred in its grounds.  Forty-eight of the soldiers were killed during battle and have a separate monument in their honor.  Eight of these graves are in disrepair and cannot be read.  The project would repair and stabilize these headstones and place a marker on one that does not have one currently.  The total cost of the project will be $17,500.  Reading has already collected $9,500 from the Board of Cemetery Trustees, Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund, and 350th Celebration Trust Committee.  They have also received letters of support from the Town Manager, Veterans’ Service Agent, Reading Antiquarian Society, and Civil War researcher Virginia Blodgett.

The Cemetery hosts walking tours and lectures, and currently is developing a “self-walking tour.”

The Civil War Preservation grant program recently awarded nearly $180,000 to 37 cities, towns, and non-profit groups across the Commonwealth for the preservation of Civil War memorials, monuments, historic documents, books, and more.  The program provides matching grants of up to 50 percent of a project’s total cost, but not exceeding $7,500, to preserve existing Civil War memorials, monuments, gravestones, document collections, and more. Applicants were either municipalities or non-profit organizations including libraries, historical societies, museums, or universities.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in providing resources and benefits to our veterans and military families utilizing innovative collaborations to maximize resources,” said Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee. “This Commission is another great example of state, local and private organizations working together to preserve the history of the Civil War and ensure that future generations will remember the sacrifices and honor the memory of the brave men and women who came before them.”

The work of the Sesquicentennial Commission and the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War continue through 2015.  While the state budget is not yet finalized, the Senate’s version of the budget did include an appropriation to allow the Civil War Preservation Grant program to conduct further rounds of grant awards.  For more information, visit the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission’s website: www.MA150.org.

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Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur Announce Grant Awarded to Melrose to Preserve Civil War History

Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur are pleased to announce that the City of Melrose will receive a $3,400 grant for its Civil War monuments restoration project through the Civil War Preservation grant program, as part of the recognition of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary (sesquicentennial).

The Civil War Preservation grant program, developed by the Massachusetts Commission for the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Veteran’s Services, encourages cities and towns to restore and preserve those pieces of history that remind us of the many lives lost during the American Civil War.

“Part of what makes our Commonwealth so unique is how our state’s history is so inextricably tied to our nation’s history,” said Senator Lewis.  “It is important that we preserve these invaluable reminders of our history so that we can best educate the next generation about their heritage, and inspire them to want to play an active role in shaping the next chapter of Massachusetts’ history.”

“Massachusetts has played an integral role in the history of our country,” said Representative Brodeur. “This grant ensures that we preserve those memorials and reminders of our storied history for generations to come.”

With assistance from the grant, the City of Melrose will make aesthetic upgrades to Memorial Hall, and repair and preserve many of the Civil War headstones located in Wyoming Cemetery.  The proposed project will restore the copper wreaths and headlights at Memorial Hall.  The project will also add monuments to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Memorial in Wyoming Cemetery, as well as clean and restore Civil War graves located in the cemetery.

The entire project is proposed to cost $6,803. This is a combined sum of the cost of the markers ($1,250), landscaping of the cemetery site done by the Eagle Scouts ($560), special markers ($443), resetting of stones in the cemetery ($1,050), the memorial preservation costs ($2,250), and the copper wreath ($1,250).  They have received a letter of support from Melrose Mayor Robert J. Dolan, and have raised $3,000 through “Operation Gettysburg,” which raises money to send Melrose veterans to the Gettysburg National Military Park.  They have a number of organizations involved, including the Melrose Veterans Advisory Board and the Melrose Veterans’ Memorial Middle School, and will also be receiving in-kind contributions from the city’s Eagle Scouts.

The Civil War Preservation grant program recently awarded nearly $180,000 to 37 cities, towns, and non-profit groups across the Commonwealth for the preservation of Civil War memorials, monuments, historic documents, books, and more.  The program provides matching grants of up to 50 percent of a project’s total cost, but not exceeding $7,500, to preserve existing Civil War memorials, monuments, gravestones, document collections, and more. Applicants were either municipalities or non-profit organizations including libraries, historical societies, museums, or universities.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in providing resources and benefits to our veterans and military families utilizing innovative collaborations to maximize resources,” said Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Coleman Nee. “This Commission is another great example of state, local and private organizations working together to preserve the history of the Civil War and ensure that future generations will remember the sacrifices and honor the memory of the brave men and women who came before them.”

The work of the Sesquicentennial Commission and the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War continue through 2015.  While the state budget is not yet finalized, the Senate’s version of the budget did include an appropriation to allow the Civil War Preservation Grant program to conduct further rounds of grant awards.  For more information, visit the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission’s website: www.MA150.org.

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Column: Raising the Minimum Wage in Massachusetts

If somebody works full-time, they shouldn’t live in poverty.  They should, at the very least, be able to provide for the essentials for themselves and their families: a roof over head, enough food in the fridge, health insurance, and the ability to save for the future.  This is a value that the vast majority of us share, which is why it is so important that Massachusetts raises its minimum wage this year.

The image of the typical minimum wage employee being a teenager working a part-time job in retail or food service to earn pocket money is an inaccurate depiction of the average minimum wage earner.  Their average age is 35 years old, with nine out of ten being 20 or older, and over one-third being 40 or older.  More than half are women, and three in ten have children.  Notably, more than half work full time.

Adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage in 1968 would be worth $10.72 per hour today.  A full-time minimum wage worker in 1968 earned $21,400 in today’s dollars, about $5,400 dollars more than a full-time minimum wage worker earns today.   Put plainly, the buying power of people earning minimum wage has diminished significantly over the last half-century.

That’s why I’m proud to have supported the Senate’s minimum wage bill that restores the value of the minimum wage in Massachusetts by increasing the minimum wage to $11 by 2016 and ties future increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Northeast region.

This not only directly benefits these workers and their families, but it also benefits our local economies.  The more money that minimum wage workers are able to bring home, the more they will have to spend in our communities’ small businesses.  Additionally, numerous studies have evidenced that raising the minimum wage does not harm employment.

Currently, the legislative effort to increase the minimum wage is awaiting a conference committee to reconcile differences between the Senate’s version and the House’s version of the bill.  In case the legislative effort stalls on Beacon Hill, we have the back-up of a ballot initiative that will appear before voters this November calling for a minimum wage increase.  Activists from the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures of voters across the Commonwealth to accomplish this goal, demonstrating both the passion behind this movement as well as the broad, grassroots support for a minimum wage increase specifically and stronger economic justice policies more broadly.

Economic justice is severely lacking when the typical, minimum-wage Wal-Mart employee has to work forty hours a week from January through the end of August just to make what the CEO of Wal-Mart makes in a single hour.  Increasing the minimum wage to simply restore its value achieves both the moral imperative of lifting many hard-working Massachusetts families out of poverty and the economic imperative of stimulating our local economies.

Author’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series focusing on economic justice policies pertaining to legislation that is currently before the Massachusetts Legislature and that will appear before voters on the November ballot.