Column: Moving Forward Safely with Marijuana Legalization

Last week Governor Baker signed into law legislation that I believe will make Massachusetts a national model when it comes to safely regulating the legal sale and consumption of marijuana. This legislation fully respects the will and intent of the voters — who voted last November to legalize the recreational use of marijuana — while taking strong steps to ensure that we don’t turn a criminal justice problem into a public health problem.

For me, the signing of this bill was also the culmination of a two and a half year journey into the minutiae of marijuana policy. To be honest, marijuana was not high on my list of priority issues when Senate President Stan Rosenberg appointed me to Chair a Special Senate Committee on Marijuana in early 2015. President Rosenberg had the foresight to anticipate that the question of marijuana legalization might be on the ballot in 2016, and he knew this is a complex issue that would require the Senate to be well prepared.

The Special Committee conducted extensive research, interviewed dozens of marijuana policy experts, and traveled to Colorado to learn from that state’s experience as the first to legalize recreational marijuana. We found that marijuana legalization involves dozens of policy questions, from how to regulate what is likely to be a new billion dollar industry to what kinds of products should be allowed for sale and how they can be marketed to challenges involving conflicting state and federal laws, and much more. We published our findings and recommendations in a detailed report in March 2016.

I concluded that I could support marijuana legalization in Massachusetts, but only if public health and safety were put ahead of industry profits. I made the decision to oppose Question 4 because I believed that the authors of this ballot question (marijuana activists and industry players) did not adequately address public health and safety concerns, particularly what I feared would be industry efforts to target youth as we have seen with the tobacco and alcohol industries.

After the passage of Question 4, the legislature created a new Committee on Marijuana Policy to gather input from all stakeholders and work as quickly as possible to fix the serious flaws in the ballot question. That launched a six month process that entailed numerous public hearings around the state and intensive discussions with all stakeholders — including public health experts, law enforcement, state and municipal officials, businesses, medical marijuana dispensaries, patients, as well as the activists who successfully campaigned for the ballot question — to understand their concerns and how best to address them.

The legislation that resulted from this process is a very strong bill that addressed many of these concerns, including my own. I believe this legislation fully respects the will of the voters; will replace the current black market with a safe, tightly regulated, legal market; ensures very strong public health and safety protections to reduce underage use and excessive consumption; and promotes a responsible industry that is diverse, encourages local players, and helps rather than hurts communities that have historically been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

I believe many of the specific provisions in this legislation will make Massachusetts a national model for how to safely and effectively legalize marijuana. These include: a strong, independent regulatory body that has the necessary expertise and will not be subject to undue industry or political influence; a careful merging of the oversight of medical marijuana with recreational marijuana along with stronger protections for patients; the strongest product, packaging, labeling, and marketing requirements and restrictions in the nation; a comprehensive research and data collection program to guide future public policy; public health and safety campaigns; various social justice provisions to address past inequities and harms of the war on drugs; a special commission on ways to prevent and address drugged driving; strong standards for energy and water usage and other environmental concerns in marijuana cultivation; and a responsible tax rate that appropriately balances the need for revenue to cover regulatory and social costs while driving out the black market.

We are on track to proceed with marijuana legalization, with legal sales expected to begin by the middle of next year. I have no doubt we still have much to learn and there will be bumps along the road, but I’m optimistic that Massachusetts can do this right.

Senate Passes Healthy Youth Act with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

With the support of Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health, the Massachusetts Senate passed S. 2113, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth, which will ensure that school districts in the Commonwealth that elect to provide their students with sex education provide age-appropriate and medically accurate information that includes coverage of both abstinence and contraception.

Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate. This legislation changes this by requiring school districts that choose to offer sexuality education follow certain guidelines to ensure that students are provided with age-appropriate and medically accurate information.

“Providing comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate information to our youth is the best way to prepare them to make safe and healthy choices,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I’m pleased that the Senate was able to advance this legislation that will strengthen education and reduce rates of teen pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections, while keeping parents informed as to students’ curricula.”

Under the bill, sexual health education must include but not be limited to: the benefits of abstinence, delaying sexual activity, and the importance of effectively using contraceptives; ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity; relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence, coercion, and intimidation, and to make healthy decisions about relationships and sexuality; physical, social, and emotional changes of human development; human anatomy, reproduction, and sexual development; and, age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students.

Senator Lewis successfully advocated for the inclusion of an amendment to the bill to require the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to update the comprehensive health curriculum framework, which hasn’t been updated since 1999.

Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of abstinence, while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences. This type of comprehensive curriculum is proven to be more effective at delaying sexual activity among young people, increasing the rate in which young people use contraception, while also lowering rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy.

The bill does not require schools to provide sexuality information. Local school boards and schools still make all decisions about whether to offer sex education. This legislation also maintains existing state law that allows parents to remove their children from sex education programs and gives school districts clearer guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.

School districts that provide a sexuality curriculum must adopt a written policy to give parents and legal guardians notification and inform them of the right to withdraw their child from all or part of the instruction. Notification to parents and guardians must be in English, as well as any other commonly spoken languages by parents. Districts must also have a process for parents to review the program instruction materials prior to the start of the course, if the parents request it.

This bill now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Column: Telemedicine Improves Healthcare Access and Reduces Costs

New technology like telemedicine holds great promise for improving access to care for patients, improving health outcomes for the treatment of chronic illnesses, and reducing healthcare costs. We should take steps to enable the expanded use of telemedicine in Massachusetts.

Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through online communications, including video and specialized technologies. It complements in-person delivery of healthcare services. Telemedicine can improve care by giving all patients, regardless of where they live or mobility limitations, convenient access to all levels of healthcare services, including primary care providers, specialists, and behavioral health clinicians. By making it easier and faster for a patient to be evaluated by a healthcare provider, telemedicine has been shown to improve the health of patients suffering from chronic diseases such as asthma, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Telemedicine has also been shown to help reduce hospital readmissions, decrease lengths of stay, and cut down on emergency room visits.

A 2015 Harvard Medical School study published in the American Journal of Managed Care estimated that a typical in-person visit to a doctor consumes about 2 hours of a patient’s time, with only 20 minutes actually spent face-to-face with the physician. Many people also have a difficult time accessing some healthcare services due to mobility or transportation limitations, long distances necessary to travel to a specialist’s office, time constraints, or challenges scheduling an appointment due to the busy nature of many providers. Expanding access to telemedicine will assist patients in receiving more timely and convenient treatment regardless of economic means, physical ability, transportation options, or geographic location.

By improving access to care and increasing the efficiency of care delivery, telemedicine can help control healthcare costs and make care more affordable for families, seniors, businesses, and our state and local governments.

For example, in 2012, the Mass. General Hospital/Brigham & Women’s Hospital Tele-Stroke network provided 24/7 acute stroke neurology coverage to emergency departments across 11 counties in Massachusetts, providing care to more than 700 patients. This resulted in approximately 400 avoided transfers to academic medical centers, totaling more than $2 million in savings to the Massachusetts healthcare system.

To enable the increased use of telemedicine in Massachusetts, I have filed An Act Advancing and Expanding Access to Telemedicine Services. This legislation will ensure parity in insurance coverage for telemedicine services at equivalent payment rates as in-person treatment; streamline the credentialing process for Massachusetts licensed clinicians using telemedicine services within the state; and ensure a uniform and consistent approach when defining telemedicine services.

Massachusetts is currently one of only two states that do not provide expanded coverage for telemedicine through Medicaid and commercial health insurance plans. For example, MassHealth (the state’s Medicaid program) only provides coverage for remote tele-monitoring for home health services.

This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of healthcare providers, consumer groups, and business organizations, including the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, Atrius Health, AARP Massachusetts, Health Care For All, the American Heart Association/Stroke Association, Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems.

If Massachusetts is to remain a leader in providing high quality healthcare, improving health outcomes, and reining in high healthcare costs, we should embrace the full potential of telemedicine.

Senator Jason Lewis Urges Continued Prohibition on Alcohol Advertising on MBTA

Responding to media reports that senior staff at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are considering a plan to relax the existing ban on alcohol advertising on the MBTA as a source of revenue, Senator Jason Lewis submitted a letter to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board strongly urging them to retain the full prohibition on advertising of alcoholic beverages throughout the MBTA system.

In his letter to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board, Senator Lewis emphasized the public health effects of excessive and irresponsible consumption of alcohol, from the impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure to the variety of liver, pancreatic, and many other diseases.  Further, Senator Lewis highlighted the $5.6 billion in related costs to Massachusetts caused by excessive and irresponsible consumption in 2010 alone.  Senator Lewis also stressed the susceptibility to advertising of young people, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics made clear that youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drank more alcohol.

In the letter, Senator Lewis warned, “Alcohol remains easily accessible and attractive to youth, who are the most susceptible to alcohol use disorder and the long-term consequences of addiction.  It is particularly unfortunate that some participants in the alcohol industry seek profits at the expense of public health by developing and marketing products that are especially appealing to our youth.  The Authority ought not participate with the industry in selling these products if there is any chance youth will view them and be attracted to the products these advertisements sell.”

Senator Lewis is in his third year serving as the Senate Chair of the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health.

The full text of the letter Senator Lewis submitted to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board is below:

Dear Members of the Board,

I strongly urge the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to retain the prohibition on the advertisement of alcoholic beverages on trains and throughout the MBTA system.

Although most people consume alcohol responsibly, the harmful health, safety, and economic consequences of excessive or irresponsible consumption are numerous, including:
•    More than 1,500 lives lost annually in Massachusetts;
•    Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities;
•    Associated with liver and pancreatic diseases, hypertension, reproductive system disorders, trauma, stroke, fetal alcohol syndrome, and cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and rectum;
•    Underage alcohol use is a major risk factor for addiction – most abusers of alcohol begin using in adolescence, while the brain is still in development.  (Like other addictive drugs, alcohol use in adolescence stunts the development of the frontal cortex, the brain region that directs “adult” responsibilities like delay of reward, extended reasoning, and impulse control);
•    One third of driving fatalities are linked to drunk driving;
•    Significant risk factor in partner violence; and,
•    Cost Massachusetts more than $5.6 billion in 2010, including costs associated with health care, lost workplace productivity, criminal justice expenses, and motor vehicle crashes.

Moreover, it is clear that youth are particularly susceptible to advertising. The American Academy of Pediatrics has surveyed the academic literature on youth and marketing, and observed that:
•    Young children – younger than 8 years – are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising;
•    Adolescent drinkers are more likely to have been exposed to alcohol advertising;
•    Children begin making decisions about alcohol at an early age…exposure to beer commercials represents a significant risk factor;
•    Minority children may be at particular risk of exposure to alcohol advertisements;
•    Youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drank more; and,
•    There is sound commonsense basis for believing that making alcohol use attractive to young people increases the likelihood that they will become alcohol consumers as young people.

Although we may not like to confront this reality, alcohol is an addictive drug capable of causing death, disability, and great suffering. Alcohol remains easily accessible and attractive to youth, who are the most susceptible to alcohol use disorder and the long-term consequences of addiction. It is particularly unfortunate that some participants in the alcohol industry seek profits at the expense of public health by developing and marketing products that are especially appealing to our youth. The Authority ought not participate with the industry in selling these products if there is any chance youth will view them and be attracted to the products these advertisements sell.

I urge the Authority to carefully consider the public health consequences and the messages sent by a public agency when alcoholic beverages are advertised in public places. Further, I encourage the board to consult with public health and substance use disorder experts if there are any questions about the potential impacts alcohol can have on youth, as well as the persuasive power of advertisements on youth.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Jason M. Lewis
State Senator
Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Public Health

Senator Jason Lewis Named to Regional Health Policy Committee

Senator Jason Lewis has been recently appointed by the Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference (CSG/ERC) to serve as a member of the CSG/ERC Health Committee.  The CSG/ERC’s purpose is to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among the region’s policy makers, business leaders, and academic community.

As Senate Chair of the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health, Senator Lewis will be able to use this new role as a member of the CSG/ERC Health Committee to gain deeper insight into best practices on health policy, as well as share Massachusetts’ policy successes with counterparts in other states.

“This role will provide me with a unique opportunity to further develop and advocate for strategies to strengthen the quality and delivery of healthcare in the Commonwealth as well as to further contain healthcare costs,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “These are issues that impact families across Massachusetts on a daily basis, and I am excited about this new avenue for exchanging public policy ideas.”

The Eastern Regional Conference includes the eleven northeastern states, from Maine to Maryland, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Canadian Provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  The Council of State Governments was founded in 1933.

Senate Passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Senate unanimously voted to pass an Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The bill, sponsored by Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem) ensures that pregnant workers are protected from discrimination in the workplace. In addition to protecting the health of pregnant employees, the bill also promotes economic security for workers and their families.

“No expecting mother should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “This legislation would ensure that women’s medical needs are addressed without imposing undue burden on employers throughout Massachusetts.”

“A woman who is pregnant is no less equal and no less valued as a member of the workforce,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “The protections included in this legislation are commonsense and simply prevent mistreatment of pregnant employees.  I’m very pleased to see this bill earn support from workers and employers alike.”

“A woman’s healthy pregnancy should not be incompatible with her ability to earn a paycheck, maintain economic security and retain insurance benefits all of which are of vital importance as a family is about to grow,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R- Gloucester).  “The bill we adopted today contains reasonable policies to protect pregnant workers without unduly burdening employers and their competitiveness.”

“I believe it is imperative that we provide pregnant workers, 40% of whom are the primary breadwinner of their household, the certainty that they are able to keep their jobs without detriment to the health of their pregnancy,” said Senator Lovely. “This piece of legislation would ensure that employers are fair to pregnant workers so that they may continue to work while pregnant and provide the best life possible for themselves and their families.”

Under this legislation, employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee or prospective employee due to pregnancy or a condition related to the pregnancy, such as lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child.

Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations for workers who are pregnant. At the request of a pregnant employee, employers must undergo a good faith and interactive process to determine an effective reasonable accommodation. Provisions include low cost modifications such as providing employees with a stool to sit on, allowing for more frequent bathroom breaks, allowing the worker to carry a bottle of water, or providing a private non-bathroom space for lactation. Employers are not required to provide accommodations that would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.

In addition, employers are prohibited from refusing to hire a pregnant job candidate solely because the candidate requires a reasonable accommodation. Employers are not permitted to force pregnant employees to accept an accommodation that they do not want or to take leave if another reasonable accommodation may be provided.

The Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act makes the Commonwealth a leader in addressing pregnancy discrimination and positions the state at the front of a national movement.

“When we started this journey two years ago, MotherWoman and her allies knew that too many pregnant women were struggling without accommodations commonly given to other workers. Massachusetts legislators, on both sides of the aisle, heard us. So did the business community,” said Linda O’Connell, Executive Director of MotherWoman, an advocate for the bill. “We are proud to live in a state that can solve real problems for real people.”

The bill will now be reconciled with the House version of the bill, which was passed last month, before being sent to the Governor for his signature.

Massachusetts Senate Releases Commonwealth Conversations 2017 Report

The Massachusetts State Senate released its “Commonwealth Conversations 2017 Report,” available online at  Commonwealth Conversations, not to be confused with Senator Jason Lewis’ local Community Conversations series of issue discussions, was a statewide listening tour, giving the Senate the opportunity to meet with local residents, businesses, and interest groups in every corner of the state to hear their concerns on the issues of every resident.

Thousands of residents attended public town hall forums across the state, and advocated for issues ranging from combatting climate change, healthcare, housing, and ensuring a more equitable transportation system.  The report aggregates testimony from the town halls into legislative priorities, and also reflects information gathered from meetings and stops throughout each day of the tour.

Senator Jason Lewis was very pleased to welcome members of the Senate to Malden for a discussion about local economic development, followed by a walking tour of downtown Malden.  The Senators were joined by municipal officials from our region, including Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, who shared with the Senate delegation Malden’s redevelopment successes, as well as challenges faced and insight on how state government can improve its partnerships with communities in the area of local economic development.

“Through the Commonwealth Conversations tour, my colleagues and I were able to further our effort to make our government more responsive and accessible to residents across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis.  “I was able to deepen my understanding of challenges faced by families and businesses across the state, and I was thrilled to bring my colleagues to our corner of Massachusetts to hear directly from my constituents.”

In 2015, the Massachusetts Senate embarked on the initial Commonwealth Conversations Tour of eight day-long tour stops around the Commonwealth to hear directly from residents about their concerns and issues important to them.  Rather than sitting in conference rooms stuffed with special interests, we went to where people really talk about these matters — school auditoriums and town halls, substance abuse centers, and small businesses.  The 2015-2016 legislative session concluded with a number of measures passed by the Senate as a result of the feedback from residents during the tour.

Massachusetts Senate Passes Marijuana Legislation with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts Senate passed, by a 30-5 vote, legislation to ensure the public health and safety of patient and consumer access to medical and adult use of marijuana in the Commonwealth.

“This legislation takes important steps to shrink the black market, promote a diverse and responsible industry, and establish strong public health and safety protections, especially for our youth, while respecting the will and intent of the voters,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Further, by mandating rigorous research and data collection to inform public policy, as well as a commission on drugged driving, the legislation also lays the groundwork for sound lawmaking around marijuana policy in the future.”

The Senate bill would strengthen oversight.  The legislation: expands the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to five members: one appointment each from the Treasurer, Governor, and Attorney General, with two additional consensus appointments; establishes a commission on the effects of impaired driving and how to detect impaired drivers; mandates clear advertising, packaging, and labeling standards while preserving flexibility for the CCC to adjust to changing industry practices; implements a strong research agenda that tracks marijuana use trends, economic trends and impacts, monitors the elimination of the illicit market, tracks employment trends in the marijuana industry, and compiles data on any continued enforcement of Chapter 94C crimes related to marijuana; and, creates public awareness campaigns to reduce youth usage, reduce impaired driving, and education about responsible usage.

The bill would expand economic opportunities for all.  The legislation: removes the head start for businesses already licensed for medical marijuana so that all individuals and businesses have a fair shot at entering this industry; allows for the production and sale of industrial hemp under the Department of Agriculture; and, requires the CCC to encourage participation by farmers and small businesses, including providing lower priced licenses and the ability to form cooperatives to small cultivators.

The bill would promote justice.  The legislation ensures that possession of marijuana by those under 21 is treated the same as underage alcohol possession, and promotes opportunities in communities impacted by the War on Drugs.

The bill would protect and preserve the medical marijuana program.  The legislation: protects the ability of the medical marijuana program to serve patients and reduces bureaucracy by carefully transferring the oversight of the medical marijuana program to the CCC over the next 18 months; institutes significant privacy protections for patients participating in the medical marijuana program; and, helps current medical marijuana facilities to compete by allowing them to convert into for-profit entities.

Senator Lewis was pleased to have a number of amendments he proposed ultimately adopted into the final Senate bill.  Among them: requirements were included that packaging be opaque, child-resistant, and re-sealable, and a prohibition was instituted on knock-offs of existing products; requirements were included for labeling to include key health warnings and symbols to prevent consumption by minors; marketing and advertising restrictions were strengthened, with the burden of proof on the industry that ads cannot be targeted to minors; and, key funding was directed toward substance use disorder prevention for schools and community coalitions.

With the Massachusetts House of Representative having recently passed its own marijuana legislation, a conference committee comprised of both House and Senate members will now work out the differences between the Senate bill and the House bill.  Their compromise bill will return to the House and Senate for passage before heading to the Governor’s desk.

Column: The Latest Teen Craze: Vaping

Most adults are not familiar with e-cigarettes or vaping. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for teenagers. The use of e-cigarettes in recent years has exploded among middle and high school students, who think that they are cool and harmless. This has rapidly become a major public health concern.

An e-cigarette is a handheld electronic device that creates an aerosol by heating a liquid, which the user inhales. The use of e-cigarettes is referred to as vaping. The liquid typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and various flavorings. Since they contain nicotine, e-cigarettes are tobacco products.

Since e-cigarettes are still largely unregulated (although the FDA is now moving forward with some health and safety regulations), it is impossible to know all of the ingredients in any particular brand of e-juice (the liquid that goes into the device). However, researchers have found that e-cigarette vapor may be filled with cancer-causing chemicals. One study, noted in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that e-cigarette vapor can contain cancer-causing formaldehyde at levels up to 15 times higher than regular cigarettes. The American Society of Clinical Oncology notes that “according to one analysis by the FDA, the tobacco solution used in e-cigarettes contains a toxic chemical found in antifreeze and several cancer-causing chemicals, such as nitrosamines.”

There has not yet been sufficient time to study the long-term health effects and risks of vaping. Some tobacco control advocates and public health experts believe that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking and, therefore, can be a harm reduction strategy for adult smokers who have been unable to quit. Others disagree and believe it is a mistake to treat e-cigarettes differently than other tobacco products.

There is universal agreement, however, that young people should not be vaping. Nicotine — whether in cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, or e-cigarettes — is a highly addictive drug. Teenagers are much more susceptible to nicotine addiction than adults, and nicotine has harmful health impacts on the developing brain. In fact, ninety-five percent of tobacco users become addicted to nicotine before age 21.

Tobacco companies are aggressively marketing e-cigarettes to young people, using the same playbook that led to high rates of smoking in the past. These tactics include celebrity endorsements, ads on social media, cheap products, and enticing flavors like cotton candy, fruit punch, and crème brulee. The industry also downplays any health risks. For example, check out whose products are very popular among middle and high school students in our communities (according to my teen daughter).

As a result, the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers has exploded. According to the CDC, the percentage of high school students who reported using an e-cigarette at least once during the month the survey was taken was 4.5% in 2013.  As of 2016, this number increased to an astonishing 23.7%. Anecdotally, I have heard from some high schools in our area that the vaping rate may now exceed 40%. School officials are scrambling to figure out how to respond.

In my role as Senate Chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, I have filed legislation, An Act to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, and I’m doing everything possible to see that this bill becomes law in Massachusetts. The bill makes it clear that e-cigarettes are tobacco products; raises the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products from 18 to 21; and prohibits vaping in schools and other places where smoking is not permitted. A number of our communities have already enacted similar policies through the action of local Boards of Health, but we need to implement these important safeguards statewide.

I also believe we need to step up education and prevention efforts, aimed at both students and parents, in our schools and communities. We must act with urgency if we are going to stem the epidemic of vaping among young people and prevent another generation from becoming addicted to nicotine and tobacco products.

Legislature Advances Fair Share Amendment with Senator Jason Lewis’ Support

The Massachusetts legislature voted 134-55 to advance the Fair Share constitutional amendment to the ballot for consideration by voters in the 2018 statewide elections.  The amendment would assess an additional 4% surtax on individual annual income over one million dollars, and requires the legislature to allocate the increased revenue solely to education and transportation needs.

The amendment specifically states that the 4% income tax will only apply to individual annual income starting at $1 million.  Any income less than $1 million would be taxed at the current state income tax rate of 5.1%.  According to the Department of Revenue, the proposed amendment would affect approximately 14,000 Massachusetts residents and will raise between $1.4 and $2.2 billion annually, earmarked specifically for new investments in education and transportation.

“The Fair Share Amendment is the best opportunity we have right now to make our tax system fairer, invest in education and transportation, strengthen our economy, and begin to restore the American Dream for working families in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis, whose full remarks at the Constitutional Convention are below.

Massachusetts has fundamental needs in both transportation infrastructure and education.  446 bridges in Massachusetts are “structurally deficient,” meaning they have “major deterioration, cracks, or other flaws that reduce the ability to support vehicles,” and an estimated $14.4 billion of bridge repairs are needed.

Further, the revenue generated by the Fair Share Amendment will support ongoing efforts to update the Chapter 70 school funding formula and implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission to ensure adequate funding for our K-12 school districts, an effort for which Senator Lewis has spent his tenure in the legislature advocating.

In addition, the rising cost of college education has hindered the ability of younger generations to afford a college education without exorbitant amounts of student debt.  Before 1987, a student working a minimum wage job could pay their way through UMass Amherst without any debt. Today, the average UMass Amherst student who takes out student loans to pay for school is graduating with over $30,000 in student debt, and the average graduate of Bridgewater State with loans leaves school with over $32,000 in student debt.

Under the Massachusetts constitution, a proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by one quarter of all elected members of the legislature, which would currently be 50 votes.  The legislature must approve the amendment in two consecutive joint sessions, which happen during each two year legislative session, before the question appears on the ballot for voter approval.  Following last year’s 135-57 vote to advance the amendment, and with today’s successful vote, the amendment will be placed on the 2018 ballot.

Remarks in Support of the Fair Share Amendment, as prepared for delivery
Delivered before the Constitutional Convention of the General Court on June 14, 2017

Thank you Mr. President.

I rise in support of the Fair Share Amendment. I believe this proposal would make our tax system fairer, enable badly needed investments in our education system and transportation infrastructure, strengthen the Massachusetts economy, and provide our constituents with greater opportunity and an improved quality of life.

Poor and working families in Massachusetts are struggling to get by every day. For them, the American Dream seems ever more elusive, if not downright impossible. People are working longer hours, and often multiple jobs. Since 1979, worker productivity has increased an astonishing 65%. But workers are not getting ahead and they’re not getting their fair share.

This is taking a terrible toll on our families, particularly our children. The child poverty rate in Massachusetts has been rising for years, with one in six children now growing up in poverty. And one in three children are living in a household with an income below 200% of the poverty level. In a state as wealthy as Massachusetts, this is shameful.

Income and wealth inequality in our country is at levels not seen since the roaring 1920s, right before the Great Depression. Massachusetts is the sixth most unequal state. While there are no doubt a number of factors that have contributed to stagnating incomes for working families and such high levels of inequality, our state tax policy is one of these factors. And, unlike the forces of globalization or rapid technological change, state tax policy is within our direct control. We can change it.

Our current tax system in Massachusetts is regressive. People in the bottom 20% of the income scale pay 10.5% of their annual income in state and local taxes, while people in the top 1% pay only 5% of their annual income in state and local taxes, after federal tax deductions. This is unfair.

Furthermore, our current tax structure is unable to support the needs of our Commonwealth. In 2001, we invested 11% of the state’s economic output in our state budget. Today, that has fallen to 9.5%. Virtually every area of the state budget is underfunded, especially education and transportation that are critical to our state’s future economic growth.

Opponents of the Fair Share Amendment wring their hands and claim that it will drive millionaires out of Massachusetts. Yes, some very wealthy people may move; perhaps they were already thinking about retiring to Florida or Arizona where it doesn’t snow. But the overwhelming evidence from studies of state tax policy strongly suggests that the vast majority of high-income households will not leave the state simply because of a higher marginal tax rate. There are many other good reasons to stay in Massachusetts. In fact, investments in a stronger education system and improved transportation infrastructure will make Massachusetts an even more desirable place to live, raise a family, and grow a business.

The Fair Share Amendment is the best opportunity we have right now to make our tax system fairer, invest in education and transportation, strengthen our economy, and begin to restore the American Dream for working families in the Commonwealth. Thank you.