Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Discrimination in Access to Organ Transplantation with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate recently passed H. 4332, An Act providing for nondiscrimination in access to organ transplantation, legislation for which Senator Jason Lewis was a co-sponsor.  This important bill seeks to address the discriminatory practice that has been found within organ procurement organizations to place disabled persons lower on organ transplant lists than those without disabilities.

Through analyzing whom the best candidates would be to receive these life-saving transplants, these organizations have historically placed those with disabilities lower on the list due to the assumption of a lower quality of life, even if those with disabilities have the same possibility of continuing life.  This bill will put safeguards in place to ensure disabled residents of Massachusetts that they are being treated equally.

“The fundamental rights and equality of all people, including people with disabilities, should be respected in all matters, most of all in life-or-death matters of emergency health care,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “I am very pleased that we were able to advance this important legislation to combat discrimination in this vital area of health care.”

This bill will also amend the Anatomical Gift Act by defining a “qualified individual” among other terms, in order to provide clear guidelines that prohibit deeming an individual ineligible solely based on their disabled status.  This will conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

In May, H. 4332 passed favorably through the Joint Committee on Public Health, on which Senator Lewis serves as Senate Chair.  The bill, which also passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives in late November at the same time that it passed the Senate, now goes to the Governor’s desk.

Column: Standing With Our Whole Community

I recently had the honor of emceeing Our Shared Table, the 12th Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition.  I was pleased to welcome hundreds of immigrants, refugees, and advocates to the Massachusetts State House.

I was inspired by the stories that were shared, including one young man who came to Boston from war-torn Somalia as a child, became a champion runner for the U.S. Track & Field team, and now teaches social studies at a Boston high school.

Sadly, many immigrants and members of other vulnerable populations are feeling anxious and scared right now.  The hateful rhetoric from the presidential campaign has spilled over into our communities, and we are seeing an alarming increase in acts of racial and ethnic harassment.

Let me be very clear.  There is no room for hate, bigotry, or intolerance of any kind in our communities.  We should treat one another with respect and dignity, regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, gender, immigrant status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  I am proud to represent one of the most diverse regions of the Commonwealth.  I believe these many areas of diversity are a source of great strength and cultural and economic vigor.

Some of you may know that I too am an immigrant. My family was fortunate enough to be able to leave South Africa when it was under the racist and oppressive apartheid system and to come to America in 1980.  One of my proudest childhood memories is when I became a naturalized citizen at age 18.

The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty features Emma Lazarus’ famous words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  We must do everything we can to ensure that these words continue to define who we are, as a Commonwealth and a nation.  We must not succumb to fear or hatred for our neighbor.

If you are a witness or victim to a bias-motivated threat, harassment, or act of violence, please contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s hotline at 1-800-994-3228 or your local police department to report the incident.

We will stand together!

Column: Supporting Our Veterans

It makes sense that Election Day and Veterans Day have such close proximity to one another, given that one of our most fundamental American rights — the right to vote and elect our leaders — has been secured for us by the courageous service of our veterans. As we commemorate Veterans Day this week, let’s remember this connection between our democracy and those charged with safeguarding it, today and in years past.

There are about 380,000 veterans living in Massachusetts today, and more than 50,000 of these veterans have a service-connected disability. Since September 11, 2001, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have returned home from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 140 servicemembers from Massachusetts have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for our country.

George Washington is credited with saying, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”

Massachusetts has long been a leader in supporting our veterans, and I’m pleased that earlier this year the state legislature passed An Act Relative to Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment, also known as the HOME Act.  This important legislation updated and expanded a variety of services and programs that support our veterans and their families in the Commonwealth.

One key provision of the HOME Act is the expansion of the Public Service Scholarship to children of any military or service person missing in action (MIA), as well as children of prisoners of war (POW). Prior to the passage of this legislation, these scholarships were only available to children of MIA/POW service members who served through the Vietnam War. This provision was based on a bill that Representative Paul Brodeur and I filed as a result of the advocacy work of the Melrose Veterans Advisory Board.

I was also proud to champion a successful amendment along with Representative Brad Jones to allow certain surviving family members of soldiers killed in action to obtain a Gold Star Family license plate from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Previously, the Registrar could issue a Gold Star Family plate, free of charge, only to spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren of service members who died while on active duty. The law did not apply to other extended family members and next of kin related to the soldier.  Our amendment now allows those individuals who possess a U.S. Department of Defense-issued Gold Star Lapel Button and letter of approval to also be eligible to obtain a Gold Star Family license plate.

This successful amendment to the HOME Act was inspired by a family from our district. Sgt. Christopher Young Vars was a World War II and Korean War veteran from Reading who was officially declared as missing in action on November 29, 1950. Although he was initially thought to have been killed in battle, Sgt. Vars was actually captured and held as a prisoner of war in North Korea, where he died several months later. His nephew, Arthur Vars, is his only next of kin and sought to honor the memory of his uncle while raising awareness of the sacrifices made by our troops.

There are many ways we can all honor the sacrifices made by our troops and veterans and show our gratitude, especially with the holiday season approaching. Hire a veteran in your business.  Send a care package to soldiers serving overseas. Volunteer at a VA soup kitchen. Get involved with Helping Our Troops (www.HelpingOurTroopsMA.org), a local group founded by two Stoneham veterans, Frank Geary and Walter Kopek. And, participate in the Veterans Day events that will be taking place in our communities on November 11th.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Preserve Evidence for Rape and Sexual Assault Kits with Support from Senator Jason Lewis

The Massachusetts Senate this week passed H. 4659, An Act relative to preservation of evidence for victims of rape and sexual assault.  This important bill will provide much needed relief to survivors of sexual assault throughout the state by requiring that rape evidence kits be held by public safety officials for the length of the statute of limitations for the crime charged.  Under current law, survivors of sexual assault who have not yet chosen to report the crime must notify law enforcement every six months if they wish to preserve the evidence contained in the kits.

“Sexual assault is a horrific and traumatic crime, and undue burdens shouldn’t be placed on survivors of sexual assault,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “This legislation is both more humane for victims and more sensible for law enforcement.”

This issue, along with other concerns regarding the timely testing and maintenance of sexual assault evidence kits, was raised in a 2013 report of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight.  Based on that report, a comprehensive bill was filed which included a provision to extend the time period for holding the evidence kits.

The legislation, which passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives in August, enjoyed bipartisan support and the support of victim’s advocacy groups.

The bill, which now goes to the Governor, also calls for the promulgation of regulations to standardize the retention and preservation of sexual assault evidence, as well as requiring a report by the director of the state’s crime laboratory on the feasibility of establishing a single location or multiple regional locations for the retention and preservation of all forensic evidence collected in the Commonwealth.

Senator Jason Lewis Receives Award for Healthcare Policy Work

Senator Jason Lewis was recently honored to receive the John Collins Warren Award from the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons (MCACS) for his work on healthcare policy in the Massachusetts Senate and, specifically, for efforts “to protect patient access to safe, high-quality surgical care through outstanding leadership and distinguished service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Dr. Warren, for whom the award is named, was one of America’s prominent medical leaders in the first half of the 19th century, whose accomplishments include: playing a key role in establishing New England’s first medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery (first issue January 1812), which subsequently evolved into today’s New England Journal of Medicine; introducing general anesthesia to the world in 1846; and, being a founding member of Massachusetts General Hospital and serving as the facility’s first surgeon.

Senator Jason Lewis, who represents the 5th Middlesex Senate district (including Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and precincts 1, 2, 3, and 8 of Winchester), is center in the photo.  Standing to Senator Lewis’ left is Dr. Michael Jaklitsch of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who serves as MCACS President.  Standing to Senator Lewis’ right is Dr. Peter Masiakos of Massachusetts General Hospital, who serves as MCACS Treasurer.

surgeonsawardLeft to right: Dr. Michael Jaklitsch, Senator Jason Lewis, Dr. Peter Masiakos

Senator Jason Lewis to Host Community Conversation with State Education Commissioner

Continuing his “Community Conversations” issue discussions, Senator Jason Lewis is excited to announce an upcoming conversation he will hold with Massachusetts’ Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Dr. Mitchell Chester.  Held in every community of the district, “Community Conversations” are issue discussions delving into a different 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 Public Education in the Commonwealth – will take place on Wednesday, October 5, at 6:30pm.  The event will occur in the GAR Room at Memorial Hall, 590 Main Street, Melrose, and is free and open to the public.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from one of our Commonwealth’s chief policy setters regarding the education of our youth as Senator Lewis and Commissioner Chester engage in conversation covering a wide variety of issues related to public education in Massachusetts, ranging from standardized testing and MCAS 2.0, to how best to serve special education and ELL students, to charter schools, to ensuring adequate and equitable funding, to social and emotional health in our schools, and much more.  There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees.  The forum is sponsored by Senator Lewis in coordination with Melrose Mayor Robert J. Dolan, Melrose Superintendent Cyndy Taymore, the Melrose School Committee, and the Melrose Education Foundation.

“With our children having just returned to school, our attention is focused on the public education our communities and our Commonwealth offer,” noted Senator Lewis.  “I hope that this conversation offers residents more in-depth perspective on the array of educational issues facing our state and local communities and provides an opportunity to give real-time feedback.  The conversations I have directly with constituents across the district are the best source of information and guidance to help me do my job in the legislature.”

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

Column: An Economy that Works for Everyone

With Labor Day having recently passed, this is a good time to reflect on the state of our economy and ask important questions about whether it is truly working for all of our families.

I’m pleased that here in Massachusetts we have taken a number of meaningful steps in recent years to improve the economic quality of life for poor and working families. In 2014, the state legislature passed legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by January 1, 2017. This increase is expected to raise the wages and standard of living for more than 600,000 workers. In the November, 2014 election, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum to create a statewide earned paid sick time policy, a benefit that was previously unavailable to many lower-wage workers. Then, in 2015, the legislature and Governor Baker significantly increased the state Earned Income Tax Credit – widely viewed as one of the most effective anti-poverty programs – for the first time in decades.

These are important and impactful victories for Massachusetts workers and their families, but we need to do more. As the state and national economy has grown over the last three-and-a-half decades, very few have benefited from this growth. As the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center pointed out in Labor Day 2015: Important Gains, Many Challenges for MA Workers, “Since the late 1970s, wages and incomes for most working families have stagnated. By contrast, for the highest income households, incomes have grown at ten times the rate of income growth for the bottom 90% of the population.”

This is not because people are working fewer hours or are less productive. In fact, most people are working longer hours and sometimes multiple jobs. Worker productivity has climbed an astonishing 65% since 1979. But most workers have not been getting their fair share of these gains.

On the other hand, when it comes to CEO salaries and compensation for top corporate executives we see a very different picture. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 1965, the average CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 20-to-1; in other words, a CEO was paid on average about twenty times what the average employee in their company made. That ratio grew to approximately 30-to-1 by 1978. Today, these figures seem positively quaint. According to an AFL-CIO study conducted in 2013, the average CEO is now paid 272 times more than the average worker in Massachusetts corporations that are included in the S&P 500 index. And there are some particularly egregious examples, such as Framingham-based TJX Companies CEO Carol Meyrowitz whose total compensation of $28.69 million in 2015 was 1,159 times more than the median TJX worker pay of $25,000.

Are top corporate executives today so much more skilled than their peers in years past that they deserve such excessive compensation?

A new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule that will require larger public companies to disclose the ratio of their CEO’s compensation to the median pay of their workers is a good first step in beginning to address this inequity in our economy.

To encourage greater balance and fairness between the compensation paid to top executives and the wages paid to workers, I have filed legislation, Senate Bill 1509, An Act relative to excessive executive compensation. This bill would require certain corporations and financial institutions to pay a higher corporate excise tax (an additional 2% of corporate income) if the CEO or highest paid employee earns more than 100 times what the median worker earns.

From World War II through the late 1970s, prosperity was broadly shared. This raised living standards for the vast majority of Americans and led to more robust economic growth overall. I believe our current economic trajectory is unsustainable. We must aggressively pursue policies that address income and wealth inequality in our Commonwealth and our nation.

Bill to Regulate Transportation Network Companies Signed Into Law

The Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Charles Baker recently signed into law, a bill to regulate Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s), including Uber and Lyft. The new law creates a strong regulatory framework for operatives and drivers to be administered by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU).  It also subjects drivers to strict background checks, sets rules for insurance requirements, and requires drivers to be certified.

During 2016, as the legislation was being developed, legislators met with a range of stakeholders on this issue including TNC’s, taxi drivers, taxi medallion owners, the livery industry, the Division of Insurance, municipal leaders, insurance companies, and the Department of Criminal Justice Information Systems.

“The new law protects opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation while ensuring appropriate oversight of and safety regarding a burgeoning industry,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “The bill has found the right balance between promoting new technology and implementing commonsense regulation, and I was pleased to support it.  It will allow entrepreneurs to prosper while protecting consumers, ensuring public safety, and preserving the ease and convenience of the public’s access to these ride-sharing services.”

Under the law, the state division established within DPU and the TNC’s must both verify that each driver has successfully completed a background check.  A driver must be at least 21 years old, and his or her name must not appear on the National Sex Offender Registry.  The driver must not have been convicted of certain crimes in the past seven years and no more than 5 traffic violations or any major traffic violation in the past 3 years.  The DPU will be required to issue TNC-specific decals that drivers will be required to place on their vehicles for identification purposes.  The law also includes steep penalties of up to $1,000 for willfully permitting an uncertified driver to use a certificate that does not belong to them.

The law increases consumer protection and ensures that the industry is transparent and accountable. Under the law, a TNC must provide accurate fare estimates, prohibit fare increases during emergencies and require accommodation of riders with special needs.  It also requires a TNC to set up a toll-free customer service hotline on their app and website to better meet the needs and concerns of consumers.

The law establishes a trust fund that will provide cities and towns with funds at least annually based on the proportion of rides originating in those cities and towns.  These funds may be used for anything related to unmet transportation needs.  It is funded by a marginal 10-cent charge on each TNC ride in the Commonwealth.

Legislation to Modernize Municipal Finance and Government Signed Into Law

The Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Charles Baker recently signed into law, comprehensive legislation to modernize municipal finance and governance laws in Massachusetts, including provisions to eliminate or update obsolete laws, promote local independence, streamline state oversight, and provide greater flexibility for cities and towns.

“This legislation offers our cities and towns additional tools to improve their fiscal stability and streamline operations,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “With municipalities routinely operating under tight financial pressures, this law will provide local governments with greater flexibility and independence.”

The new law eliminates or updates obsolete laws that no longer serve a meaningful purpose, including the repeal of county government finance reporting requirements and changes to the civil motor vehicle infraction law to allow cities and towns to issue citations electronically.

The law promotes local autonomy for cities and towns, allowing for more control over certain funding decisions and local regulations. For example, it allows municipalities to enter into joint powers agreements to provide services regionally and reduces the state’s role in setting liquor license quotas for on-premises drinking.  It also streamlines state oversight of many tax collection procedures to make the process more transparent and predictable for local officials.

Through a successful amendment to the legislation proposed in the Senate by Senator Lewis and in the House of Representatives by State Representative Michael Day of Stoneham, the bill provides an opportunity for school districts to better manage the unpredictable nature of special education costs.  Specifically, this bill would give municipalities the option of establishing a stabilization fund that could be used to help pay for unexpected and unbudgeted out-of-district special education costs, including tuition and transportation.  These expenses can present significant challenges for school budgets.

Finally, the law takes steps to provide municipalities with greater flexibility, including a study on double utility poles, changes to procurement laws to simplify, clarify and increase thresholds for construction contracts and updates to the way municipalities use parking revenues, to allow for use on a wide range of transportation-related issues.

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.