Column: Why Non-Compete Agreements are Unfair to Workers and Bad for our Economy

Most people are probably not familiar with non-compete agreements, at least until they are hired for a job by an employer who requires one as a condition of employment. Non-compete agreements restrict where somebody can work, for a certain period of time, after leaving their current employer. Supporters of these agreements argue that they are necessary to protect a business from an employee leaving to work for a competitor or to start her own business that may be competitive with her former employer.

However, I believe that non-compete agreements are inherently unfair to workers and their families, and they also harm our state’s economy by sapping innovation and restricting labor mobility. Originally limited mainly to the high tech industry, their usage in other industries, including the lower-wage service sector, has unfortunately become more widespread in recent years. It is time to get rid of non-compete agreements or at least significantly scale them back in Massachusetts.

About half of our state’s technology sector workforce is bound by non-compete clauses, with one-third of those arrangements restricting employment for more than a year. There are also egregious examples of workers in hair salons and sandwich shops who are restricted from leaving and working for another business in that industry for a substantial period of time. The result is that workers and their families may have to struggle without income during the restricted period, or find it difficult to land a job in another industry. Skills and technical knowledge can also atrophy during this period when an individual is kept out of the workforce. This is simply unfair.

There is also substantial research indicating that non-compete agreements stifle innovation. The U.S. Department of the Treasury recently published a report detailing the negative effects that non-compete agreements have on employment and innovation, as well as the positive effects that employee mobility has on labor productivity by achieving a better matching of workers and firms.

States that more stringently restrict non-compete agreements see positive effects on the number of patents issued, the number of start-ups, and jobs created. Furthermore, the benefits of venture capital on local innovation are increased when non-compete agreements are scaled back. New companies considering locating in Massachusetts or expanding into the Commonwealth may face difficulties hiring because of non-compete agreements that lock up potential employees.

California bans the use of non-compete agreements in almost all situations. Many experts believe this has been one of the contributing factors to the incredible success of Silicon Valley. Of the billion-dollar tech companies founded in the last decade, 32 out of 36 of them are based in California. None are located in Massachusetts. While the Commonwealth certainly does enjoy a thriving innovation economy, we could be doing even better in terms of building new companies and creating more jobs.

At the beginning of this legislative session, I filed a bill to get rid of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. Both the Senate and the House passed different versions of this legislation. There was agreement between the branches that non-compete agreements should not be allowed for low-wage workers, students, or workers who are laid off. However, there were differences in the length of the restricted period that would be allowed for other types of workers as well as the compensation that would have to be paid to the employee during this restricted period. Unfortunately, these differences proved too great to overcome in the final days of the legislature’s formal session in July, and so a bill never quite made it to Governor Baker’s desk.

The good news is that we have made significant progress in educating lawmakers and the public about the harms caused by non-compete agreements. I plan to re-file my bill next legislative session (which begins in January, 2017) and I’m very hopeful that we will be successful in eliminating or substantially scaling back non-compete agreements in Massachusetts.

I will continue to champion this issue going forward because I believe it’s both an issue of fairness as well as fostering innovation and economic growth in the Commonwealth.

Comprehensive Economic Development Legislation Passed Into Law

The Massachusetts Legislature recently passed, and Governor Charles Baker signed into law, comprehensive economic development legislation including investments, initiatives and incentives to promote development and workforce training, create jobs and stimulate the Commonwealth’s economy. The legislation strengthens existing programs and authorizes $743.9M in capital spending over a period of three years for a range of economic development initiatives supporting workers, businesses and communities.

“I’m pleased that the Senate, the House, and Governor Baker were able to work closely together to pass this comprehensive legislation that will promote economic development and job creation across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Among many other important provisions, the legislation recapitalizes the MassWorks infrastructure grant program that has been very helpful to communities in our district with their downtown revitalization efforts.”

The bill authorizes capital investments in initiatives to promote innovation, create jobs and provide skills training and assistance for the Massachusetts workforce.  Included are: $71 million in matching grants to allow colleges and universities to participate in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative; $45.9M for building improvements for career technical education and training programs; $30M for workforce training and education in the advanced manufacturing, technology and hospitality fields; $15M for a new Innovation Infrastructure Program providing grants and loans for the design, construction and improvement of buildings to spur innovation and entrepreneurship, including co-working spaces, innovation centers, maker spaces, post-incubation start-ups and artist space; $15.775M for matching grants for innovative scientific and technology research and development activities stimulating economic and employment opportunities in the state; $4.775M for a cybersecurity and data analytics technology development and training center; and, $2.4M for the Early College High School Program to encourage partnerships between school districts and higher education institutions.

The bill also authorizes spending for infrastructure investments to boost economic growth, housing production and community development across the Commonwealth.  Included are: $500 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program, which provides funding to cities and towns to support commercial and residential development, housing, downtown revitalization, transportation improvements and other infrastructure necessary for economic development and job creation; $109.5M for the purchase of higher-capacity cranes to move cargo and extend docks to allow larger ships to dock and conduct business in the state; $15M for site assembly and assessment, pre-development permitting and other pre-development and marketing activities; $45M for the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund; $45M for transformative development projects in Gateway Cities; $7.5M for smart growth housing development for low income residents; $6.4M for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program to increase access to healthy food options and improve economic opportunities for nutritionally underserved communities; and, $1M for public infrastructure grants to municipalities.

The bill strengthens existing programs designed to create jobs and connect people to jobs, updating the operation of Regional Economic Development Organizations and streamlining the Economic Development Incentive Program to make the program more flexible and transparent.

In addition, the bill makes several changes to tax incentives and expenditures and establishes a tax expenditure review unit within the Office of the Inspector General to periodically review and report on the costs and benefits of the state’s tax expenditures.

Finally, the bill establishes a new tax incentive, limited to Massachusetts residents, encouraging families to save for higher education. Individual filers would be able to take a $1,000 tax deduction for contributions to a prepaid tuition or college savings program, also known as a 529 plan. Married couples filing taxes jointly would be able to take a $2,000 deduction.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate recently passed legislation establishing a paid family and medical leave program for all Massachusetts workers. The bill creates a system for paid, job-protected leave for employees who must take time off from work to recover from their own serious health condition or to care for a new child or ill family member.

The Senate bill requires employers to offer employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for family care and up to 26 weeks for temporary disability leave. Employees would be eligible for benefits after 1,250 hours of service for the employer, the current federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) standard.

“It is vitally important that our workforce has appropriate support and protections if they have to take medical leave to recover from a serious health issue or care for a recovering family member,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “This lack of security harms families, the public health, and our economy.  Advancing this legislation will help working families.”

California, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island currently require employers to provide paid family and medical leave for their employees, a benefit that many Massachusetts businesses voluntarily offer. Businesses offering paid family and medical leave have reported less employee turnover and savings associated with recruiting and training new employees, as well as improved morale and productivity.

While certain Massachusetts workers currently have access to unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), nearly 40% of workers are not eligible. A 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report points to the inability to afford unpaid leave as the primary reason workers do not take full advantage of leave under FMLA.

The bill creates a Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, run by the Department of Family and Medical Leave within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, to administer paid leave benefits. Family care and temporary disability leave benefits would begin at 50% of an employee’s average weekly wage as of January 1, 2018 and increase to 70% in 2019 and 90% in 2020, with a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000, with flexibility included in the legislation for small business of ten or fewer employees. Employers and employees are anticipated to equally share the cost of contributions to the Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, although employers may opt to pay a greater share or the full amount of the contribution.

In addition, the bill protects and prevents retaliation against employees who use family or medical leave. Employees who take paid leave must be restored to their previous position, or to a substantially similar position, and they must remain eligible for previously accrued vacation time, sick time, bonuses, advancement or other employment benefits. Employers are also prohibited from requiring employees to exhaust rights to any sick, vacation or personal time prior to or while taking leave.

Although formal sessions have concluded for the term, the Senate will continue to work with the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Governor Baker to advance this effort.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Wage Theft Legislation with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate recently advanced important legislation pertaining to the issue of wage theft, S. 2416, An Act to prevent wage theft and promote employer accountability.  The wage theft bill gives the state greater power to go after corrupt employers and provides additional tools for the Attorney General’s office to hold violators fully accountable.

“Wage theft preys most often upon the most vulnerable members of the workforce and it must be prevented,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “Hardworking Massachusetts workers deserve their rightful wages for the time and labor they put in.  This legislation provides important protections to realize that goal.”

Wage theft, the illegal practice of not paying employees for all of their work through means such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, or forcing workers to work off the clock, has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy and across the nation. Many workers who are by all definitions employees are often misclassified as “independent contractors,” thereby cheating them out of minimum or prevailing wages, and leaving them on the hook for medical costs if they are injured on the job.  Furthermore, employers may undermine legitimate businesses by avoiding taxes and not paying into critical safety nets for workers, putting an unfair burden on the Commonwealth when workers have a legitimate right to utilize these programs.  Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to wage theft due to a reluctance to speak out against employers. As a result, these workers can sometimes go weeks without pay, and when they do get paid, it can be less than originally promised.

To increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, this wage theft bill makes a company that directly contracts with an entity who commits a wage theft violation liable for wages owed to any employee of the entity. In addition, any company that directly contracts with an entity who commits a wage theft violation is held liable for any of the associated penalties and fines, if that company knew or should have known about the violation.

This legislation also gives the Attorney General the ability to issue a stop work order in response to a wage theft violation. These stop work orders would take effect 96 hours after they are served and would only apply to the violator of wage theft laws. In addition, if a company has lapsed in its unemployment insurance obligations the Director of Unemployment Assistance would also be able to issue the same stop work order as the Attorney General.  Any person or entity who receives a stop work order will be provided with the opportunity to cure the violation within the 96 hours prior to the stop work order taking affect. Alleged violators are also provided with the right to a hearing upon written request within 10 days from the date the stop work order is served.  To protect employees affected by a stop work order, the bill requires that employees be paid for the period that the stop work order is in effect or the first 10 days the employee was scheduled to work had the stop order not been issued.

The bill also ensures that workers are aware of their rights under the law with regard to wage theft by requiring all parties who contract for labor or services post a notice of their rights in relation to a wage theft violation in a conspicuous location. Such notice of wage theft violations, rights, and remedies would be prepared by the Attorney General and must include: information describing wage theft violations; information about the notices, documentation, and other requirements placed on employees or contracted workers in order to exercise their rights to collect wages; a description of the protections that an employee has in exercising his or her rights in regards to wage theft; and, the name, address, phone number, and website of the Attorney General’s office where questions about the rights and responsibilities can be answered.

Although formal sessions have concluded for the term, the Senate will continue to work with the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Governor Baker to advance this effort.

Column: A Productive Legislative Session on Beacon Hill

The state legislature recently wrapped up formal sessions for the 2015-16 legislative session. Although the House and Senate will continue to meet until the end of the year in informal sessions, most major pieces of legislation are only considered during formal sessions. So, now is a good time to take stock of what the legislature and Governor Baker have accomplished over the past 18 months. It has been a productive legislative session with progress on a number of critical issues for our communities and our Commonwealth.

Notable bills that passed the legislature and were signed into law by the Governor include:

  • Opioid addiction prevention and treatment. The tragic opioid addiction crisis has hit our communities hard, and this legislation builds on efforts previously undertaken by the legislature to improve education, prevention, treatment, and recovery supports. The bill limits most first-time opiate prescriptions to seven days and further strengthens the state’s prescription monitoring program (PMP). Schools will be implementing an evidence-based screening program for risky behavior, and hospitals will be taking new steps to assess and treat patients who are admitted after an overdose.
  • Clean energy. Massachusetts is already a national leader in clean and renewable energy, and this bill will further advance the state’s efforts to fight climate change, reduce energy costs, and create new green jobs. The bill requires electric utilities to solicit competitive contracts for large offshore wind energy projects, as well as hydropower and other eligible clean energy resources. The state must also move forward with efforts to repair environmentally significant gas leaks, and evaluate energy storage procurement targets.
  • Gender pay equity. This historic legislation is aimed at closing the gender pay gap that hurts women and families. Women in Massachusetts earn on average 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. The bill defines “comparable work”, prohibits companies from asking prospective employees about their salary history until after a job offer has been made, and encourages businesses to do their own self-assessment and take proactive steps to reduce gender pay disparities in order to avoid wage discrimination lawsuits. The bill received the support of the business community, and is the strongest pay equity bill in the nation.
  • Public records reform. This long overdue update to our public records law, which I sponsored in the Senate, is critical to government transparency and accountability. The bill will ensure that the public and the media have convenient, timely, and affordable access to all government records that rightly belong in the public domain.
  • Ride-sharing oversight. This bill establishes a regulatory framework so that ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft can continue to flourish in Massachusetts while at the same time ensuring public safety. The bill establishes strong background checks for drivers, requires that ride-for-hire vehicles display appropriate decals, and ensures that appropriate levels of insurance are in place.
  • Transgender civil rights. This legislation prevents discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, including restaurants, shops, hotels, and workplaces. It is a significant civil rights victory that reaffirms our commitment to treat all Massachusetts residents with respect and dignity.
  • Veterans benefits. This bill expands upon previous efforts to ensure that Massachusetts leads the nation in providing supports and benefits to our veterans and their families. The bill increases access to housing for low-income veterans, updates the public service scholarship program, and expands access to Gold Star family license plates (a provision inspired by Arthur Vars, a constituent who lives in Reading).

A number of other significant bills passed the Senate this legislative session but unfortunately did not make it all the way to the Governor’s desk. They include: implementing the recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission in order to ensure adequate and equitable funding for all our public schools; scaling back non-compete agreements that are unfair to workers and harm our state’s economy; protecting our youth from new tobacco products like fruit flavored cigars and e-cigarettes; and establishing a paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts. I will continue to champion these bills, as well as other issues that impact the quality of life in our communities, in the next legislative session.

President Teddy Roosevelt once remarked that “in every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.” These wise words have, and will continue to, guide my work on your behalf in the state Senate.

Landmark Pay Equity Legislation Signed Into Law, Strongest in the Nation

The Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Charles Baker signed into law, a measure to ensure that men and women receive equitable compensation for comparable work. The new law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in the payment of wages for comparable work unless the variation is based upon a mitigating factor including: seniority; a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, sales, or revenue; education, training, or experience.

Notably, the law will prevent employers from requesting salary history in hiring, a measure designed to end the self-perpetuating cycle of wage disparity. Massachusetts would be the first state in the nation to adopt such a provision. However, prospective employees may voluntarily disclose their past salaries.

In Massachusetts, women earn on average approximately 82 cents for every dollar earned by men.  Women lose approximately $12 billion every year due to the wage gap.  In 40% of households with children, women are the primary earners.  This pay gap harms our families.

“This new law represents a deeply meaningful step in the effort to prevent workplace discrimination and close the gender pay gap,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This measure not only enhances fairness in the workplace but also provides families with a stronger economic outlook as the wage gap shrinks.  I’m proud that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation on issues of fairness and equality.”

This law, which received substantial support from the business community, represents a consensus-based effort to ensure that the legislation would be practical, effective, and sustainable. Key to those efforts were defining “comparable work” and maintaining flexibility for performance-based compensation. The law incentivizes companies to correct compensation disparities internally before going to court by creating three-year affirmative defense from liability. Within that time period, employers must complete a self-evaluation of its pay practices and demonstrate reasonable progress in eliminating pay disparities.

The law also prohibits employers from reducing salaries in order to comply with the law, and it prohibits employers from preventing employees from talking about their salaries.  The legislation will take effect on January 1, 2018.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Juvenile Justice Bill with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate recently passed important legislation pertaining to juvenile justice, S. 2417, An Act promoting transparency, best practices, and better outcomes for children and communities.  The legislation updates various areas of the law relating to juvenile justice to encourage rehabilitation and positive future outcomes for youth, to reduce recidivism and to ensure fair treatment of children.

“This bill will reform our justice system to increase the odds that young people who make a mistake will have the opportunity for a second chance at a productive life that contributes to the community,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “The important reforms in this legislation balance public safety with the importance of rehabilitation and the potential for positive change.”

The bill excludes very young children from delinquency proceedings by raising the lower limit of juvenile court jurisdiction from 7 to 11 years of age, while also ensuring they have access to services from the Department of Youth Services. In 2013, only 40 children under the age of 11 were arraigned statewide, most for fighting or destruction of property. Children ages 7 to 10 are typically elementary school students and highly unlikely to be competent to stand trial. If necessary, very young children will be subject to Juvenile Court through Care and Protection or Child Requiring Assistance proceedings. The bill also decriminalizes certain offenses for young people that are by law civil infractions for adults, to ensure equitable treatment of children and adults.

Additionally, the bill adopts the current standing order of the Juvenile Court banning the automatic shackling of children in court proceedings, while providing a judge the discretion to allow shackling in cases where there is a specific safety or flight risk concern. Automatic shackling unnecessarily stigmatizes and traumatizes young people and can impede the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system.  Further, the bill codifies the constitutional right of indigent juvenile offenders to counsel and expert assistance for parole hearings, as established by the 2015 Supreme Judicial Court decision in Diatchenko II. The bill also updates parent-child privilege to allow parents to help their children in the court system without being forced to testify about these conversations.

The bill also creates a process for the expungement of certain juvenile records for misdemeanor offenses committed before age 18, to allow young people the chance to learn from their mistakes and pursue stable, productive lives as adults. Despite the fact that youthful offenders have not reached full adult maturity, juvenile records can follow them into adulthood, often limiting their ability to secure housing, obtain jobs or pursue higher education.  The bill also directs the Trial Court to make recommendations on the feasibility of creating a “youth status” as a distinct, mitigating factor in a young person’s case, reflecting scientific research on adolescent and young adult brain development.  Finally, the bill creates a task force to make recommendations on ways to coordinate and modernize the data systems used to collect and report juvenile caseload and outcome data.

The bill subsequently moved to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Human Trafficking Bill with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate recently advanced important legislation pertaining to human trafficking, S. 2444, An Act to strengthen the anti-human trafficking law.  The legislation increases protections for survivors of human trafficking while providing tools for public awareness, data reporting, and training for law enforcement, court personnel, health professionals and educators.

“Human trafficking is an atrocity that affects mostly women and children,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “Whether forced into the commercial sex trade or involuntary labor, it is akin to slavery.  I am pleased that the Senate has advanced this effort to build on our earlier efforts and further strengthen protections for those affected by this terrible crime.”

In 2011, the Legislature passed the state’s first anti-human trafficking law, one of the strongest in the county.  That legislation criminalized human trafficking for commercial and sexual exploitation of people, including severe punishments ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment.  It also provided survivors with an affirmative defense to any potential prostitution charge as a result of being trafficked.  Survivors further gained a civil remedy and access to the Victims of Human Trafficking Trust Fund.

The newly-passed human trafficking bill provides a significant update to strengthen this law by adopting several measures.  First, the legislation will close the so-called bodyworks loophole that allows persons practicing “bodywork therapy” an exemption from the massage therapy licensing requirements.  This lack of regulatory oversight has generated a pathway for traffickers to establish operations in communities throughout the Commonwealth while maintaining a public façade that insinuates a legitimate business.  The Senate bill addresses the problem by establishing a statewide board of bodywork therapy that will provide oversight of bodywork establishments and require individual licensure for practitioners.

The legislation also includes significant tools for victims to help restore their lives.  The timeframe to file a civil suit against a trafficker is extended from a mere 3 years to 10 years.  Victims will also have access to expanded affirmative defenses to criminal charges related to sex crimes, and will have the ability to petition the court to vacate a prior conviction for any offense not a felony committed as a result of being a human trafficking victim.  Upon a vacated conviction, victims can further seek to have their record sealed by in order to help aid the victim in obtaining housing, employment and other vital measures needed to live a healthy quality of life.  Under the bill, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services is also directed to report to the legislature the current adequacy and limitations on current victim services dealing with safety, support, housing, health and education.  The report must also identify the number of beds and victims served at safe house facilities throughout the state.

Final provisions in the bill include enhanced data collection to better track human trafficking crimes and identify any patterns or characteristics useful to law enforcement for investigations, arrests and prosecutions.  Mandatory training for law enforcement, health professionals, and K-12 educators is also implemented to help personnel identify victims and trafficking offenses. Finally, a public awareness campaign will be developed and awareness signs shall be posted in high-risk locations such as adult entertainment facilities and foreign cash transfers.

The bill subsequently moved to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill Limiting Noncompetition Agreements with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

State lawmakers took a step forward in limiting noncompetition agreements in Massachusetts as the Massachusetts Senate passed S.2418, “An Act relative to the judicial enforcement of noncompetition agreements.”

Most notably, the bill would restrict noncompetition agreements to three months and require employers to pay 100% of an employee’s annualized earnings during the restricted period, or other mutually-agreed upon consideration negotiated within thirty days following the employee’s termination which is of equal or greater value than the garden leave clause.  If no agreement for other consideration is reached within thirty days, the garden leave clause becomes effective.

“Non-compete agreements can be harmful for workers, for our economy, and for our innovative spirit; as such, it’s time to significantly scale them back in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “For instance, half of tech workers are bound by non-compete clauses, with one-third lasting more than a year!  Further, non-competes contribute to the ‘brain drain’ effect as more than half of recent graduates who leave Massachusetts report doing so primarily for employment-related reasons.  To keep talent in Massachusetts, and to keep talented people working, it is time to scale back non-compete agreements.”

The legislation restricts employers from enforcing noncompetition agreements on interns, undergraduate and graduate students, employees under the age of 18, hourly workers, employees who are terminated without cause or laid off, independent contractors, and  employees whose average weekly earnings are less than two times the average weekly wage in the Commonwealth, roughly $130,000 per annum.

To be enforced, the non-compete must be reviewed with the employee at least once every three years and the employer must notify the employee in writing within ten days of the employee’s termination of the employer’s intent to enforce the non-compete.

The legislation prohibits a court from reforming a non-compete to make it comply with the bill’s requirements, encourages narrowly-drawn non-competes drafted with specificity as to what activities are proscribed and why and how they relate to the trade secrets or confidential business information that is sought to be protected.

After meeting with constituents whose careers had been harmed, Senator Lewis had filed in January 2015 a bill to restrict the use of non-competition agreements. He worked closely with a small working group of Senators to ensure the bill that passed the Senate included protections his constituents had requested.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives also recently passed a version of this bill.  The two chambers are currently reconciling differences between the two versions of the bill in a conference committee.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bills Expanding Educational Opportunities with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate passed two pieces of legislation aimed at expanding educational opportunities for targeted populations in the Commonwealth. An Act creating higher education opportunities for students with intellectual and development disabilities will help to enable this population of students to attend college with their same-aged peers in an inclusive setting.  An Act for language opportunity for our kids, also known as the LOOK Bill, removes the current mandate requiring schools to use Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), or English-only programs, as the default English Language Learner (ELL) program model, thereby giving schools the flexibility to establish programs based on the unique needs of their students.

“Education policy in the Commonwealth should strive to be as inclusive as possible, enhancing students’ chances for success to the fullest,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “These two bills passed by the Senate fulfill those fundamental values as we seek to provide everyone across Massachusetts with the strongest and most complete academic opportunities.”

The higher education legislation opens the doors of our state colleges and universities to students who have been historically denied access to higher education, and held back to complete additional years of high school, because their disability prevented them from obtaining a high school diploma.  It also codifies the very successful Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative Grant program, which allows high school students aged 18-21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities to participate in an inclusive college course and the student life of college as part of their high school special education.  Thirteen colleges and universities already partner with nearly 70 school districts statewide to offer the program, and now it will be available statewide for the rest of the residents of the Commonwealth.  All residents of our Commonwealth have the ability to be lifelong learners and pursue education and this bill allows each of our students to reach his or her potential.

The LOOK Bill addresses critical needs among English language learners.  For some children, moving into an English-only program too soon has proven to stunt academic growth and have major implications on future educational success. This has become a growing problem as the number of ELL students in Massachusetts continues to rise. Since the year 2000, the number of ELL students in Massachusetts has almost doubled to over 85,000 students.  As the ELL student population continues to grow, so does the achievement gap between them and their English as a first language peers; in 2015, only 64% of ELL students graduated from high school, as compared to 87% of all Massachusetts students. Of the 64% who graduated, only 34% enrolled in college, and 27% finished. In an effort to reverse these trends, the LOOK bill removes the one-size-fits-all requirements to better accommodate the diverse needs of the Commonwealth’s ELL students.

Rather than mandating new Language Acquisition Programs or dismantling current programs, this legislation removes the barriers to selecting the best programs for Massachusetts students. School districts may choose from any comprehensive, researched based instructional program that includes subject matter content and an English language acquisition component. These programs may include Sheltered English Immersion, Dual Language Education, or Transitional Bilingual Education.

The LOOK Bill also encourages a high level parental choice and involvement in selecting, advocating, and participating in English learner programs. Under the bill, school districts must notify parents annually of their rights to choose any ELL program offered in the school. Parents also have the right to select or reject a program based on the educational needs of their child, and are allowed to advocate as a group for a district to adopt a specific language acquisition program. Furthermore, this bill establishes a Parent Advisory Council composed of parents of students enrolled in ELL programs for districts with language acquisition programs that serve more than 100 ELL students or in which ELL students are more than 5% of the district’s school population. Their duties will include advising districts on matters that pertain to the education of students in ELL programs, meeting regularly with school officials to participate in the planning and development of ELL programs, and participating in a review of school or district improvement plans.

Both bills move to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for their consideration.