Legislature Sends Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Bill to Governor’s Desk with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

Both Houses of the Massachusetts Legislature passed landmark criminal justice reform legislation, with support from Senator Jason Lewis. The bill passed the Massachusetts Senate with unanimous support, reflecting the bipartisan consensus on these reforms. An Act relative to criminal justice reform will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.

The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.

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

For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.

The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Additionally, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).

This legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. It also expands diversion programs to the Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Court.

Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies: reducing the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor; allowing a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed; expanding the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications; and, establishing protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,000. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.

Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Short-Term Rentals Bill with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed S. 2381, An Act regulating and insuring short-term rentals, with the support of Senator Jason Lewis. The bill expands the scope of the state’s room occupancy excise tax and local option excise tax to include short-term transient accommodations, including those arranged through platforms such as AirBnB.

The legislation would generate an estimated $34.5 million and $25.5 million in state and local revenues, respectively, based on the most recent Senate Ways and Means Fiscal Impact Report. The expanded tax base will automatically apply to all 175-plus cities and towns that have already adopted the local room occupancy excise to date.

“This important legislation includes measures to level the playing field, preserve local control and flexibility for cities and towns, and support the emerging short-term rental industry,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “As innovation continues to power the Massachusetts economy, our legal framework has to keep up to ensure fairness. This bill accomplishes that in a responsible and balanced way.”

The bill contains consumer protection measures, including a requirement that hosting platforms maintain liability insurance, and strengthens data collection and sharing for cities and towns. It also creates a commission to examine ways that hospitality lodging units can be used as a resource to increase availability of emergency shelter for displaced persons.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

Senate Passes Housing Bond Bill with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate voted to pass S. 2368, An Act financing the production and preservation of housing for low and moderate income residents, a housing bond bill. The bill is the outcome of a session-long collaboration between the Senate and House, with a focus on preserving, modernizing, and increasing production of the state’s affordable housing stock.

In spite of other strong economic indicators, Massachusetts is in urgent need to further develop affordable housing. The housing shortage has placed the Commonwealth in the bottom tier of housing affordability, and rents have risen to the third highest in the nation. The Housing Bond bill authorizes $1.8 Billion in investments in the preservation and production of affordable housing across the Commonwealth.

Senator Lewis sees the housing bond bill as being at the intersection of state government’s role as a partner for cities and towns in promoting local economic development and his advocacy for policies that benefit working families and create greater economic opportunity for all.

“Keeping housing costs affordable is a necessity both for families’ qualities of life and for keeping our state economy growing,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “For our workforce to thrive, the cost of buying or renting a home cannot continue rising faster than much of the nation. The investments we’re making in housing through this bond bill are a significant step toward maintaining affordable access to quality housing for all.”

Critical authorizations include: $600M for the modernization and redevelopment of the State’s public housing stock; $400M for the development and preservation of affordable and mixed income housing; $125M for the preservation and improvement of existing and expiring use affordable housing; $100M for the preservation and development of workforce housing; $65M for community based housing for individuals living with mental illness or disabilities; $60M for home modification for elderly residents and those living with severe disabilities; $50M to incentivize smart growth production and transit oriented developments; and, $45M for the capital investments in early education and out of school programs for low income residents.

The bill also extends and expands critical tax credits dedicated to incentivizing the development and modernization of the Commonwealth’s housing stock.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill has been referred to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis is the Assistant Majority Whip in the State Senate. He also serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. He also co-founded and co-chairs the legislature’s Prevention for Health Caucus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Passes Pet Protection Bills with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed to Massachusetts Senate Leadership Post

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

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

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

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

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

Column: A Bold Vision for a Clean Energy Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold on our changing economy, evolving workforce needs, and innovative approaches to prepare today’s students and workers for the jobs of the future. Held in every community of the district, “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different timely topic at each forum, with ample opportunity for residents to share feedback and have their questions answered by experts on the given topic.

This upcoming event – Community Conversations: The Future of Work in the Commonwealth – will take place on Tuesday, March 13, at 6:00pm. The event will occur in the auditorium of the Beebe School, 401 Pleasant Street, Malden, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta and Malden Public Schools Superintendent John Oteri, with introductory remarks from Senator Lewis, State Representative Paul Brodeur, and Malden Mayor Gary Christenson. Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur serve as the co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

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

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

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