Senator Lewis Supports Passage of Sports Betting Legalization Bill with Strong Consumer and Problem Gambling Protections

(BOSTON) State Senator Jason Lewis joined his Massachusetts Senate colleagues on Thursday to pass An Act regulating sports wagering which would legalize commercial sports betting in Massachusetts. The bill, which would allow for both in-person and online sports betting, includes several strong consumer safeguards and addresses gambling addiction and recovery. This legislation is estimated to generate $35 million in tax revenue annually for the state. 

“I appreciate that the state Senate has taken a careful and thoughtful approach to the issue of legalizing sports betting in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The Senate’s bill will enable Massachusetts to join the majority of other states in permitting legal sports gambling, but ensure that our state has very strong consumer protections and seeks to prevent and mitigate problem gambling and addiction as much as possible.”

The legislation would allow for bets to be placed on a professional sport or athletic event, such as the Super Bowl or World Series, and establishes a licensing process that is inclusive of the state’s existing casino and slot parlor industry. In addition to sports wagering being offered at existing casinos, the bill contemplates six licenses to be awarded through a competitive process to companies which promote job growth and local economic development; responsible gambling; diversity, equity and inclusion; and which have local community support. Those six licensees would be permitted to operate both in-person at a retail facility and online wagering. Wagering would not be permitted on electronic sports, amateur sports or athletic events including high school and youth sports, Olympic-related competitions, or collegiate sports. All leading Massachusetts Division 1 universities have previously expressed their strong opposition to allowing college sports betting. 

Mindful of the harmful impacts of compulsive gambling and risks of addiction, the Senate bill is intentional in its efforts to promote responsible gambling and takes strong steps to protect consumers. To that end, the bill would:

  • Prohibit the use of a credit card to place a sports wager.
  • Require the Department of Public Health (DPH) to establish a compulsive gambling direct assistance program.  
  • Require companies licensed to offer sports betting to train employees to identify problem gambling and create plans to address instances of problem gambling, which would be submitted to the state’s Gaming Commission.
  • Ensure that consumers could cash out and permanently close accounts for any reason or create self-imposed limits on wagers. 
  • Place restrictions on marketing and advertising of sports betting, especially to prevent predatory marketing aimed at young people. The bill would prohibit unsolicited pop-up advertisements and certain promotional items, and institute a whistle-to-whistle ban on television advertising during live sporting events. Similar to the state’s cannabis law, the bill would limit advertising on television and online where less than 85% of the audience is 21 or older. This would be the strongest standard in the country for preventing the targeting of youth.

With legislation relative to sports betting having previously passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a Conference Committee will now be established to reconcile the differences between the two bills. 

Senator Lewis Supports State Senate Passage of Major Climate Bill

Amid alarming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, State Senator Jason Lewis joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday to pass a major climate bill, An Act Driving Climate Policy Forward. The bill addresses climate change in three primary areas — clean energy, transportation, and buildings — with the aim of achieving the Commonwealth’s ambitious goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which the Legislature codified into law in 2021.  

“Massachusetts is a national and global leader in combating climate change and shifting our economy away from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy like offshore wind and solar,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “But the scale and urgency of the climate challenges we face demand that we rapidly expand our burgeoning offshore wind energy industry and accelerate efforts to green our transportation sector and buildings.”

The bill includes significant provisions to support and accelerate the deployment of clean energy infrastructure:

  • Allocating $100 million to a Clean Energy Investment Fund to support infrastructure development related to offshore wind energy, solar energy, and energy storage.  
  • Allowing agricultural and horticultural land to be used to site solar panels, and eliminating the so-called ‘donut hole’ for on-site solar energy net metering to promote residential solar.
  • Removing biomass from the list of energy-generating sources that are allowed to receive state incentives for clean energy.  

The bill includes numerous strategies to reduce emissions in the transportation sector, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts: 

  • Allocating $100 million for the state’s MOR-EV electric vehicle incentive program, which provides rebates to individuals who purchase or lease electric vehicles.  
  • Expanding access to electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Starting in 2028, requiring every passenger bus that is purchased or leased by the MBTA to be a zero-emission vehicle. By the end of 2040, the MBTA would be required to operate exclusively zero-emission vehicles. Underserved and low-income communities would be prioritized for the equitable deployment of these zero-emission buses. 
  • Requiring the MBTA to develop and implement plans for electrifying the commuter rail fleet, with new purchase of diesel locomotives to be phased out in the coming years.
  • Directing the state to prepare a report on the estimated cost of converting school buses to zero-emission vehicles, as well as recommendations on how to structure a state incentive program for replacing school buses.

The bill also includes significant provisions to tackle the challenging issue of reducing emissions from buildings:

  • Creating a 10 municipality demonstration project allowing all-electric new building construction by local option.
  • Making enhancements to the Mass Save program, which provides rebates and incentives for owners and renters related to efficient appliances and other home energy improvements. 
  • Requiring the state to consider the participation of low- and middle-income households, including renters, in the Mass Save program, and provide recommendations to promote more equitable access and reduce disparities in uptake.

The bill now heads to a Conference Committee to reconcile differences with a previously passed House climate bill, before sending the final version to Governor Baker’s desk.

Senator Lewis Supports Passage of Social Equity Cannabis Bill

Senator Jason Lewis joined his State Senate colleagues on Thursday to pass S.2801, An Act Relative to Equity in the Cannabis Industry. Through the creation of a new fund that aims to support equity in the cannabis industry and improvements to the local licensing process, the bill levels the industry playing field to help members of communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement take part in the Commonwealth’s growing cannabis market.

“I was pleased to join this bipartisan vote in the Senate to promote greater equity in the cannabis industry in Massachusetts,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “My goals when it comes to the legal adult use of marijuana have always been to prioritize equity and public health: to make safe products available for responsible adult consumers; help address the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on communities of color, and prevent the creation of a predatory industry that targets young people as we have previously seen with the tobacco and vaping industries.”

The bill builds upon existing Massachusetts law, which legalized adult-use cannabis and made a first-in-the-nation commitment to equity in the cannabis industry. A combination of high entry costs and lack of access to capital has kept many would-be entrepreneurs from taking part, resulting in fewer than seven percent of cannabis licenses in Massachusetts going to social equity businesses.

Opening an average cannabis retail shop can require $1 to $1.5 million in liquidity, and the numbers are even higher for manufacturing facilities –at around $3-$5 million. Since federal cannabis laws prevent these businesses from accessing traditional bank loans, lack of capital can pose an insurmountable barrier, leaving many entrepreneurs vulnerable to predatory financial deals and damaging equity partnerships. The social equity fund, created by the legislation, would facilitate new access to capital by making grants and loans, including forgivable and no-interest loans, to equity applicants. The fund has the support of the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), whose commissioners voted unanimously to endorse the idea earlier this legislative session. The fund will receive ten percent of annual revenue collected from the marijuana excise tax (an estimated $18 million for FY2023). Massachusetts is poised to join a handful of other states in pioneering this program.

The bill also responds to concerns about the process of negotiating Host Community Agreements (HCAs), which have been identified as a key factor in keeping industry entry costs high. The bill re-affirms that fees in HCAs cannot exceed three percent of a cannabis business’ annual gross sales and must be reasonably related to the costs associated with hosting a cannabis business in a city or town.

Other components of the bill include:

  • Incentives for municipalities to prioritize equity, through a portion of the marijuana excise tax that is distributed to cities and towns that host social equity marijuana businesses. This is cost-neutral to the consumer.
  • A requirement that the CCC establish rules and regulations for municipalities to promote full participation in the industry by previously harmed communities.
  • Clarifications to the existing law’s authorization of social consumption businesses, clearing a path for municipalities to permit on-site cannabis consumption businesses in their city or town via local ordinance as well as local referendum. Currently, many residents, particularly renters and those who live in public housing, do not have a location where they may legally consume cannabis products, even nine years since voters approved medical marijuana and five years since the approval of adult use.

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

Senator Lewis Welcomes Malden Residents Mya and Deanna Cook to State Senate for Passage of CROWN Act

 State Senator Jason Lewis joined his Senate colleagues on Thursday to unanimously pass the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, which prohibits discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles in workplaces, schools, and any school-related organizations.

Twins Mya and Deanna Cook, along with their parents Aaron and Colleen Cook who are Malden residents, joined Senator Lewis on the floor of the Senate chamber for the debate and vote on the bill. In 2017, when they were students at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Mya and Deanna faced discrimination and abuse when they were told by the school administration that their long braids with extensions violated school policy and would need to be removed. Mya and Deanna refused, arguing that this policy discriminated against black students. The girls then faced escalating consequences, including the threat of suspension. Deanna, a member of the track team, who had qualified for the state finals, was removed from the team. Mya was removed from the softball team and told that she could not attend prom. Even after they prevailed with Mystic Valley Charter School, the Cook family did not stop their fight for justice. They turned their efforts to champion the passage of the CROWN Act here in Massachusetts and nationally.

“On the long march toward justice, and especially racial justice, the Senate’s unanimous passage of this legislation marks another step forward,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “We would not be at this point without the great courage and strength of Mya and Deanna Cook, who as 15-year-old students faced discrimination and abuse from their high school for their hairstyles, and bravely stood up for their rights and those of so many other black women.” 

The CROWN Act prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles by incorporating hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyle into the definition of race in the Massachusetts General Laws. The protection means that no school district or employer can adopt or implement policies that would impair or prohibit a natural or protective hairstyle that has been historically associated with one’s race.

With the leadership of State Representative Steve Ultrino, who originally filed the bill, the Massachusetts House of Representatives also passed the CROWN Act. The House and Senate will now work to reconcile some differences between the versions of the bill that passed in each chamber before sending the final legislation to Governor Baker for his signature.

If signed into law, Massachusetts would become the fifteenth state to adopt the CROWN Act.

Special Legislative Commission Issues Report with Policy Recommendations for Major Early Education and Care Reforms

(Boston, MA) – State Representative Alice H. Peisch and State Senator Jason M. Lewis, Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Education and the Special Legislative Early Education and Care Economic Review Commission, announced today that the Commission has finalized its report. Established by Section 106 of Chapter 227 of the Acts of 2020, the Commission was charged with studying early education and care funding and ways to support and expand equitable access to high-quality early education and care in the Commonwealth. The scope of the study included early education and care for very young children (ages 0-5) and out-of-school time care for school-aged children (ages 5-13).

The Commission’s report concludes that the current early education and care system in Massachusetts is not meeting the needs of many young children, working families, and employers. Additionally, many early education and care providers are struggling due to workforce shortages and high turnover driven largely by inadequate compensation and benefits and lack of professional development and advancement for early educators and staff. The report further concludes that building a more sustainable, affordable, equitable, and high-quality system of early education and care is critical and urgent for the future of the Commonwealth’s children, families, communities, and economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the pre-existing challenges facing the early education and care sector in Massachusetts, and especially the impact these challenges have on children and families from low-income, under-resourced communities. It has also underscored the importance of reliable and accessible early education and care options for working families in order to meet the workforce needs of our businesses and economy.

“Long a leader in K-12 public education, Massachusetts now has an opportunity to build on that success in the early education and child care sectors by acting on the recommendations contained in this report,” said Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch, Co-Chair of the Commission. “Implementing policies aimed at providing greater access to affordable, high-quality early education and care while ensuring effectiveness and sustainability was the primary goal of the Commission and remains a top priority for the Education Committee and Legislature. I offer my sincerest thanks to my co-chair Senator Jason Lewis, the members of the Commission, the many individuals who provided feedback and testimony, and the staff who worked so diligently on this matter.”

“This report provides a blueprint for the Commonwealth to lead the nation in building an early education and care system that truly meets the needs of our young children, early educators, working families, and employers,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Co-Chair of the Commission. “This work is critical to our goals of advancing racial justice and an equitable economy that works for all. I’m deeply grateful to my co-chair Representative Peisch, the commission members, staff, and all the early education stakeholders who contributed so much time and effort to this important project.”

“Recognizing our EEC workforce was in crisis prior to the pandemic, the House has long championed childcare workforce needs, especially for those who are serving our most vulnerable children and families,” said Speaker of the House Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “Our childcare sector’s proven dedication and commitment to working families in the Commonwealth, especially during the pandemic, cannot be understated. The pandemic further emphasized the key role childcare plays within the fabric of our society, and by bringing EEC providers, parents, state leaders and the business community together on these recommendations, we have laid the necessary foundation for ongoing partnerships to continue as we consider ways to stabilize and support the EEC sector and build a stronger system for providing access to high-quality, affordable care for families, especially our most vulnerable and underserved populations. I want to thank the commission members for all of their hard work and input developing these recommendations, but I especially want to thank Representative Alice Peisch for continuing to lead the House on this critical work on behalf of children and working families.”

“Early education has a profound and positive impact on students’ long-term development, but for too many families in Massachusetts it remains out of reach,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This report sheds important light on how actions by the legislature could serve to make early education more accessible for all, while supporting providers. In addition to long-term economic development, investing in early education would bring immediate economic benefits, both for working families and for the early educators who have dedicated their lives to this important work. The pandemic has threatened decades of progress on women’s participation rates in the workforce, and it has been particularly life-altering for working mothers; increasing access to early education will therefore support our state in achieving an equitable economic recovery. We are excited to use this remarkable report to help our legislative efforts in the Senate. I want to thank the commissioners who contributed to this thoughtful report, and especially Senator Lewis for his continued dedication to improving educational attainment in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The Commission makes a number of comprehensive and urgent recommendations across four focal areas for addressing the many issues facing the state’s early education and care sector. These focal areas include (1) program stabilization; (2) family affordability and access; (3) workforce compensation, pipeline, and advancement; and (4) system infrastructure and local partnerships. The recommendations are categorized as requiring either immediate, short-term, or longer-term action, along with implementation considerations and cost estimates.

“The health crisis has highlighted inequities in so many of our systems and also raised broad, concrete awareness of how critical the early education and care sector is to our economy and to the future of our Commonwealth,” said Amy O’Leary, Executive Director, Strategies for Children. “We continue to be inspired by this dedicated and resilient workforce and their commitment to providing high-quality learning experiences under incredible circumstances.  The roadmap outlined in the Commission’s recommendations tackle many of the persistent challenges we have faced and puts us on a path to establishing a system of affordable, high-quality early education and child care for all Massachusetts families including much needed support for early educators. We look forward to our continued partnership to ensure full implementation and funding for this vision.”

The Commission included legislators, administration officials, early education and care providers, advocates, and business leaders. It held 10 public meetings, including one hearing devoted to public testimony; conducted two focus groups with providers; and reviewed multiple sources of evidence including a national review of research, consideration of models from other states and countries, and input from multiple stakeholders and experts.

“I was honored to serve on the EEC Economic Review Commission and encouraged that they sought insight from early educators in communities serving high percentages of low-income children. This level of attention and support for child care is exactly what our children, families, and educators need and deserve,” said Maria Gonzalez Moeller, CEO of The Community Group in Lawrence, MA. “The recommendations in this report can help ensure children with the highest needs are able to access life changing services of early education and care. They should also set the stage for the transformation of the child care system in our Commonwealth, and will help Massachusetts to lead the nation in building a system that truly works for everyone.”

“The pandemic has underscored what has long been established in research and data, but under-recognized at great expense to Massachusetts families and employers: early care and education is absolutely essential to a thriving and equitable workforce and economy.” said Tom Weber, Executive Director, Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education and Foundation Fellow, Eastern Bank Foundation. “The Commission’s well-considered recommendations, if implemented, would help make Massachusetts a global leader in attracting and supporting the success of workers with children, who are vital to the state’s economic recovery and growth.  The Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education is committed to working with our public leaders, early childhood educators, and advocates to achieve a “world-class” system that supports the successful development of our children, workforce, and economy.”

The report cites decades of research that show a strong connection between access to high-quality early education and child development, achievement in school, and long-term success. High-quality programs that support verbal, social-emotional, and cognitive development are critical for the school readiness of young children and will help close long-standing opportunity gaps in K-12 education. The ability to access and afford high-quality early education and care significantly impacts the economic wellbeing of working parents, especially women and people of color.

The Joint Committee on Education, in partnership with House and Senate leadership and other relevant committees, will work on legislation to implement the policy recommendations contained in the report. Fully implementing all these recommendations will require upwards of $1.5 billion annually over time. Although the Commission did not address or identify new revenue sources, substantial additional resources will be necessary and will likely require a combination of increased federal funding—since the federal government currently provides more than 60% of the public funding to the early education and care sector in Massachusetts – as well as increased state funding and/or consideration of other alternative measures, such as requiring businesses of a certain size to provide an employee benefit for early education and care similar to current healthcare requirements.

 

Find the report here.

Senator Lewis Nominates Philmore Phillip II, Founder of CATO, as a Black Excellence on the Hill Honoree

Senator Jason Lewis recently nominated Philmore Phillip, an advocate for racial equity and founder of CATO, as a 2022 Black Excellence on the Hill honoree. Black Excellence on the Hill is an annual event hosted by the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus to recognize and celebrate Black community leaders and trailblazers across Massachusetts.

A 2009 graduate of Reading Memorial High School and former METCO student, Mr. Phillip founded The Coalition of Us (CATO), an organization dedicated to creating social awareness, opportunities, and support for people of color by nurturing collaboration and engaging diverse people in planning and participating in events, programs and educational curriculum.

Last year, Senator Lewis joined Reading town and school leaders on a historical tour of Reading, organized by CATO, that shed light on the enslaved black people who once lived in the town, including Cato Eaton who only gained his freedom after fighting for three years in the Revolutionary War.

When asked about the importance of his work, Philmore said “My work represents that change is possible, no matter how large or small; that even a little black boy such as myself can come back 20 years later to be the change he wishes to see in his lifetime as long as one stays determined to see the change through.”

“I’m proud to have nominated Philmore as a Black Excellence on the Hill honoree, and grateful that his important work to advance racial equity in Reading and beyond is being recognized,” said Senator Lewis.

Mr. Phillip has also worked closely with two Reading teachers, Kara Gleason and Megan Howie, who have done extensive research into the history of enslaved people in Reading, to broaden the school curriculum to include this untold history. He was also a featured speaker at Reading’s first Juneteenth celebration.

graphic of a small bottle with liquid labeled "Insulin"

Senator Lewis Supports Passage of Bill to Make Prescription Drugs More Affordable

State Senator Jason Lewis recently joined his Senate colleagues in a bipartisan vote to pass An Act relative to Pharmaceutical Access, Cost and Transparency (PACT Act). This comprehensive pharmaceutical legislation is intended to address the rapidly increasing cost of prescription drugs and to ensure life-saving medications are affordable, fairly priced, and accessible for all patients who need them.

“Working to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare has been a top priority for me because I believe healthcare should be a basic human right,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “While the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are very important to the Massachusetts economy, we also have to ensure that life-saving drugs, like insulin for example, are affordable and accessible, and the PACT Act includes numerous strategies to make this happen.”

The bill offers immediate price relief for insulin—a life-sustaining, daily drug for the one in 10 Massachusetts residents living with diabetes, without which they face substantial health risks and complications. Insulin prices have recently risen sharply, resulting in out-of-pocket costs that can reach $1,000 or more per year for patients in high-deductible plans or who are underinsured. This financial burden often forces patients to engage in the dangerous practice of severely limiting or forgoing the use of insulin. To address this problem, the PACT Act limits out-of-pocket spending on insulin by eliminating deductibles and coinsurance, and permanently capping co-pays at $25 per 30-day supply.

The bill also includes many other provisions designed to make prescription drugs more affordable for patients and to help control rising healthcare costs:
-Ensures patients pay the lowest possible price at the pharmacy
-Ensures pharmacy choice for patients
-Creates a prescription drug cost assistance trust fund
-Creates a process for the state Health Policy Commission to identify and address unreasonably high priced drugs and excessive price increases
-Requires pharmacy benefit managers to be licensed by the state Division of Insurance
-Requires drug price notification procedures for manufacturers
-Requires greater state oversight of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers

“Our HelpLine takes calls from people across the state who can’t afford their medications. Individuals and families in Massachusetts have been struggling for far too long to access and afford the prescriptions they need, and this legislation provides critical financial relief at a pivotal time,” said Amy Rosenthal, Executive Director at Health Care For All. “By passing this bill today, Senators took an important step to rein in excessive drug costs, bringing oversight of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers in line with other health care industries in the state.”

The State Senate has been a leader in pursuing policies that improve access to quality, affordable healthcare for Massachusetts residents, including expanding telehealth, strengthening mental health and addiction treatment, and tackling high drug costs.

The PACT Act now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis Supports Bill to Increase Access to COVID-19 Testing, Vaccines, and Masks

State Senator Jason Lewis joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate in passing a $76 million plan to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and its variants by providing residents with greater access to tests, vaccines, and masks, while prioritizing communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as frontline workers. Much of the funding in this bill is expected to be eligible for reimbursement by the federal government.

“I’m very pleased that the Senate is continuing to address urgent pandemic needs by providing additional resources to improve access to testing, high quality masks, and vaccines,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This bill will especially help frontline essential workers as well as communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and where vaccine rates, particularly among children, are lagging.”

The bill includes $50 million to further increase the availability and encourage usage of both testing and vaccination throughout the state, including $5 million that is specifically allocated for increasing vaccination rates among five through eleven-year-olds, an age group now eligible to be vaccinated but whose vaccination rates remain low in comparison to older residents. The bill includes an additional $25 million for the state to purchase and distribute high quality masks, with priority given to education and health care workers.

The bill also establishes a grant program, in consultation with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, for cultural institutions to help promote vaccine awareness and education.

In response to reports that the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is seeking to collect overpayments in pandemic unemployment benefits that were paid to some Massachusetts residents through no fault of their own, the bill provides funding for the DUA to conduct a multi-lingual, easy-to-understand public information campaign to notify claimants of their legal rights. The bill also extends the period during which DUA can reconsider a determination of overpayment and requires that the department produce a comprehensive report detailing the status of overpayments.

The bill also extends the authorization for several COVID-19 emergency measures adopted earlier in the pandemic, such as those related to health services in assisted living facilities, liability protections for health care providers, remote notaries, flexibility for local governments and non-profits to hold meetings virtually, and outdoor dining for restaurants.

Importantly, the bill requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a vaccine equity plan and directs the Department of Public Health to publicly post guidance on effective mask usage and recommended testing, quarantine, and isolation periods.
With a version of this legislation having previously passed the House of Representatives, the House and Senate will now work quickly to reconcile the differences and send the final bill to Governor Baker for his signature.

Continuing the Work of MLK to Advance Racial Justice in our Communities and Commonwealth

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Great civil rights leaders like MLK or Fannie Lou Hamer or John Lewis have rightfully earned their place in American history for their extraordinarily courageous leadership in fighting for racial justice in our country. But the hard work of pursuing justice and building a more perfect union is also powered by ordinary people and community groups that contribute to this struggle every day, in many different ways, large and small. As we celebrate MLK Day this week, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to each one of you!

One of the important ways that we can advance racial justice is by passing laws that make our Commonwealth more just and equitable — laws that help dismantle systemic racism and provide redress for past wrongs.

Thanks in part to the tireless efforts of advocates in our communities and all across Massachusetts, our state legislature has made some major strides in recent years to pass laws that are advancing racial justice in healthcare, education, housing, criminal justice and law enforcement, economic opportunity, and in addressing climate change. Some of these landmark new laws include:

Criminal justice reform legislation that is changing many aspects of our criminal justice system that have disproportionately targeted and harmed people of color.

An increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour and a universal paid family and medical leave program that is increasing economic opportunity and fairness for low-income workers, who are overwhelmingly people of color and immigrants.

The Student Opportunity Act that is expanding the promise of a high-quality public education to all students, including those in historically disadvantaged and marginalized communities.

Law enforcement and policing reforms to increase transparency and accountability, especially in the policing of communities of color.

Climate change legislation that will make Massachusetts a national leader not just in transitioning to a clean energy economy but also in advancing environmental justice in communities of color that have disproportionately borne the burden of pollution and environmental degradation.

Various pandemic relief and recovery bills that have prioritized health equity and addressing racial health disparities that have been further exacerbated by the current public health crisis.

While these new laws are all important steps forward for racial justice in Massachusetts, there is much more that still needs to be done. As Dr. King said “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

In my role as Senate Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, I’m particularly focused on steps we can take to advance racial justice and anti-racism in our public schools.

One bill that I have sponsored, An Act relative to educator diversity, would accelerate efforts to recruit, support, and advance more teachers and school administrators of color. Extensive research shows that all students, but especially students of color, benefit from having teachers and school leaders of color.

Another bill that I am championing, An Act relative to anti-racism, equity, and justice in education, will promote a more inclusive curriculum and teaching practices that improve educational outcomes for students of color. This bill was drafted in partnership with students, teachers, and community activists in Malden, and I am immensely grateful for their civic engagement and commitment to racial justice.

Let us continue to be inspired by the legacy of Dr. King and other courageous civil rights leaders as we each, in our own way, help “bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

State Senator Jason Lewis

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/minnesotahistoricalsociety/5355384180/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Senator Lewis and Representative Day Secure $100,000 for Greater Boston Stage Company for COVID Safety Upgrades

State Senator Jason Lewis and State Representative Michael Day are pleased to announce that they successfully secured a $100,000 appropriation for the Greater Boston Stage Company, as a part of the COVID pandemic recovery bill recently passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Baker.

The funds will be used by the Greater Boston Stage Company, a non-profit regional theatre located in Stoneham, to make COVID health and safety facility improvements and upgrades.

“The Greater Boston Stage Company is an integral part of our local arts and culture scene and this funding will help ensure that they can continue safely welcoming audiences,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on our cultural institutions, which are such an important part of our local economy and thriving communities.”

“The Greater Boston Stage Company isn’t just an economic anchor for the Stoneham downtown, it’s a cultural asset for the entire region,” said Representative Michael Day. “Ensuring that our cultural institutions have the financial support they need to recover and adapt after over a year of restrictions and darkened stages is a priority and I am glad to have partnered with Senator Lewis to secure these funds.”

“Greater Boston Stage Company is thankful for the advocacy of our state delegation in securing this recovery funding,” said Heather Mell, Development Director at GBSC. “These funds will make it possible for the theatre to cover the added costs we have incurred due to new COVID health and safety protocols and will allow us to make vital updates to our facility to support greater accessibility for our artists, patrons, and community.”

The bill, known as An Act relative to immediate COVID-19 recovery needs, uses federal monies received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as well as the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget surplus.