Malden Legislators Applaud $153,000 MassTrails Grant for Spot Pond Brook Greenway

The Malden legislative delegation—Senator Jason Lewis, Representative Steve Ultrino, Representative Paul Donato, and Representative Paul Brodeur—is pleased to announce that the city of Malden has been awarded a $153,056 MassTrails Grant. This grant funding will be used to pay for the design, engineering and permitting of the Spot Pond Brook Greenway, a proposed multi-use path alongside Oak Grove station.

The Spot Pond Brook Greenway (SPBG) project will extend an existing shared use path along MBTA and DCR property adjacent to the MBTA’s Oak Grove orange line station in Melrose and Malden. This stretch of the trail will take advantage of the MBTA’s ongoing roadway and parking lot reconstruction project at Oak Grove station, and the design of the roadway project has been modified by the MBTA to allow room for the construction of the shared use path.

“This grant is great news for our ongoing efforts to improve access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists at Oak Grove station,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I want to thank in particular Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley for his hard work and advocacy in helping the city to secure this grant.”

“We welcome these funds from the Commonwealth as we continue to develop alternative ways of transportation and increase the amount of environmentally friendly recreation for our residents,” said Representative Steve Ultrino. “All the stakeholders have worked extremely hard to plan this innovative approach allowing them to be a recipient of these funds.”

“I applaud all involved in securing this grant,” said Representative Paul J. Donato. “It is yet another example of interested parties working together to better our community.”

“Multi-modal access to quality transportation is a major asset our residents value,” Representative Paul Brodeur said. “This grant will complement our ongoing efforts to improve the facilities at and around Oak Grove and I am grateful to have played a role.”

Funding for MassTrails Grants comes from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) capital budget, and from the motor fuel excise tax on off-road vehicles including ATV’s and snowmobiles, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Surface Transportation Act, in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).

Column: We Need a Carbon Pollution Fee to Combat Climate Change

This essay was co-authored by Melrose resident Gabrielle Watson and State Senator Jason Lewis.

We all want to give our children a good life and to leave the world a little better than we found it. But, increasingly, scientists are telling us that climate change will fundamentally alter the natural systems we all rely upon. It is tempting to turn away from such scary news stories, but we can’t ignore reality. We have to act.

In the face of inaction on the part of the federal government, it is up to states and local communities to step up to the challenge. Massachusetts has prioritized a cleaner, more sustainable energy future since the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008. This landmark legislation made our state one of the first in the nation to seriously tackle climate change. We have set ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, invested in developing renewable energy sources like solar and offshore wind, begun planning for climate adaptation, and are pursuing many other initiatives at the state and local levels.

But given the magnitude of the challenge we face and the urgent need to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (and preferably sooner), we must pursue even bolder policies.
We believe that Massachusetts should implement a carbon pollution fee, which is also known as carbon pricing. A carbon fee is a charge on fossil fuels, based on the amount of carbon dioxide these fuels emit when burned. With a carbon fee, the price of dirty fuels increases, creating an incentive for businesses and consumers to use less fossil fuels and move more rapidly to greener options. This approach should be something that liberals and conservatives alike can embrace since it uses market mechanisms to unleash innovation that will move us much more rapidly to a clean future.

We are proud to support House bill 2810, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure and Reduce Carbon Emissions filed by State Representative Jen Benson and Senate bill 1924, An Act Combating Climate Change filed by State Senator Mike Barrett. Although these two bills take slightly different approaches, they would both require that Massachusetts implement a carbon pollution fee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Both bills would return a significant amount of the fees collected to consumers as a rebate, and would ensure that low-income residents do not face a financial burden. Funds that are not rebated would be spent on energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation like electric vehicles, and climate resilience projects in our communities.

With majority support for each bill in its respective branch of the legislature, we are hopeful that Massachusetts will pass legislation to implement a carbon pollution fee, and once again lead our nation to a sustainable future.

Legislature Advances Fair Share Bill Led by Senator Lewis

During a constitutional convention on June 12, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to place an additional 4 percent tax on annual taxable income in excess of $1 million to generate revenues for transportation and educational investments.

The revenue generated – estimated by the Department of Revenue as much as $2.2 billion annually – would fund repair and maintenance projects for roads, bridges or public transportation as well as funding for public education.

“The revenues from the Fair Share Amendment will go a long way to increase funding for public schools, make higher education more affordable for students and families, and fix our state’s crumbling roads, bridges and public transportation. Today, more than three quarters of legislators voted to advance the Fair Share Amendment, reflecting the overwhelming public support for this measure,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead sponsor of the legislation in the State Senate. “The Fair Share Amendment is the best way to make the investments in our Commonwealth that we desperately need in the fairest way possible.”

The income level would be adjusted annually to reflect any increases in the cost of living by the same method used for federal income tax brackets. This would ensure that, over time, the additional 4 percent tax would continue to apply only to the highest earning individuals in the Commonwealth. The tax would apply to all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2023.

The legislature must approve a constitutional amendment in two consecutive joint sessions, which happen during each two-year legislative session, before the question appears on the ballot for voter approval. If approved, the amendment would go before voters in 2022.

Senator Lewis Applauds Senate Passage of Legislation to Prevent Distracted Driving

The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday unanimously passed An Act Preventing Distracted Driving, which would prohibit the use of handheld mobile devices while driving.

“The ubiquity of smart phones has led to a serious epidemic of distracted driving across our communities,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Accidents, injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving are completely preventable, and this bill will improve road safety and protect the lives of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving accounted for 3,450 deaths in 2016. In the prior year, an estimated 400,000 people suffered from injuries because of distraction-affected crashes.

Passage of this bill puts Massachusetts in line with the northeastern states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York. Forty-six states currently ban texting while driving for all drivers and fourteen states ban the use of handheld devices for all drivers.

In 2010, the legislature banned texting while driving but did not ban the use of handheld devices for talking or other purposes. The 2010 law banned handheld use for 16 and 17-year olds. The law has been difficult to enforce and hands-free technology has improved significantly since the passage of the 2010 law.

The Senate has acted in previous sessions to address these concerns. This bill, which builds upon the 2010 law, would ban drivers from holding and using a cell phone while driving. Drivers, however, can make a single tap or swipe to activate or accept a hands-free call or to use a navigation device. The bill also makes exceptions for phone calls in emergency purposes, such as situations where the safety of the driver, passenger or a pedestrian is at risk or first responder intervention is necessary.

Under the bill, an initial violation results in a $100 fine and second time offense is a $250 fine, while subsequent offenses carry a $500 fine. In addition to fines, a driver who commits a second or subsequent offense is required to complete an educational program on driving behavior selected by the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

The bill also considers concerns that enforcement of the hands-free ban could lead to disparate impacts, such as racial profiling, in certain communities. It requires law enforcement to document stops and submit aggregate data, including race and ethnicity, to the Department of Public Safety for the production of annual reports to the Legislature and the public.

The Senate and the House will now work to reconcile bills relative to distracted driving prevention.

Senator Lewis Supports Passage of Local Road Repair Funding Bill

In May, both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate passed a bond bill to fund local road and bridge repairs (funding often referred to as “Chapter 90” funds), and to continue the legislature’s ongoing commitment to invest in our local communities.  The bill will provide $200 million in Fiscal Year 2020 for municipal infrastructure improvements across the Commonwealth.

“Our communities need meaningful state investment into road and bridge repair, and after yet another long New England winter, we’ve all seen the rough shape of many local roads,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This funding will improve our infrastructure and make our transportation network safer and more reliable.”

Under this bill, the communities of the 5th Middlesex District are allocated at total of $3,696,263 for the 2020 Fiscal Year, funds which can be invested in road and bridge repair and other local infrastructure.

Chapter 90 funds are allocated using a formula based on community road miles, population and employment.  After passage in the Senate last week, the bill moves to the House of Representatives for enactment before returning to the Senate for final approval and then sent to the Governor for his signature.

Senator Lewis Joins Unanimous Vote to Approve FY20 Senate Budget

On Thursday, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a $42.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2020 which increases access to quality, affordable health care, significantly expands funding for public education, and makes other targeted investments to provide greater access to opportunity and economic vitality across the Commonwealth.

“After a week of productive and substantive debate and discussion with my Senate colleagues, I am more confident than ever that the Senate’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020 will meaningfully address many of the Commonwealth’s greatest collective needs,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I’m especially pleased that this budget makes substantial new investments in education, reflecting the Senate’s longstanding commitment to supporting public education and laying the groundwork for the Massachusetts Legislature to update the Commonwealth’s school funding formula and ensure that every school district is adequately and equitably funded.”

The Senate FY20 budget provides $268 million more in Chapter 70 funding to local school districts than in FY19, the largest annual increase in two decades. This budget also makes significant progress in implementing the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, in order to ensure that all public schools are adequately and equitably funded so that every student across the Commonwealth has access to a great education. Education investments include:

  • $5.176B for Chapter 70 education funding
  • $345M to fully fund the Special Education Circuit Breaker
  • $100M to reimburse school districts for costs incurred when students leave to attend charter schools
  • $558M for the University of Massachusetts, $293.2M for the fifteen community colleges, and $274M for the nine state universities; $2.5M for the Early Colleges program to allow students to earn college credits and get a head start on the transition to college; and $2M for grants offered through the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative to support high school students with intellectual disabilities ages 18–22 with access to higher education opportunities
  • $12M for grants to the Head Start program to maintain access to early education services for low-income families
  • $6.5M for Youth-At-Risk Matching grants, including support for YWCAs, YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget reduces reliance on the use of one-time revenue sources and directs $268M to the Stabilization Fund to continue to build the Commonwealth’s financial safety net.

The budget also continues Massachusetts’ leadership in keeping health care accessible and affordable, increasing resources, making investments to deliver services to our most vulnerable residents, and ensuring the well-being of individuals and families. The budget funds MassHealth at a total of $16.55B to maintain access to affordable health care coverage for over 1.8 million people, ensuring comprehensive care for our most vulnerable children, seniors and low income residents.

Many steps were taken in an effort to contain program costs and keep health care affordable and accessible to all.  These include providing MassHealth with additional tools to tackle the rapidly growing cost of pharmaceutical drugs by permitting the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate for fair and additional rebates or cost effective payment arrangements with pharmaceutical manufacturers.  The budget also explores new and creative cost savings initiatives for MassHealth to purchase prescription drugs and requires greater transparency from pharmacy benefit managers. Health investments include:

  • $10M for the new Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund to support a loan forgiveness initiative for behavioral health workers and a general public awareness campaign
  • $150.2M for a range of substance abuse treatment and intervention services, including $3.5M in new funding to open five new recovery centers
  • $5M for investments in the substance use disorder workforce, including training on medication management, medication-assisted treatment and treatment of co-occurring disorders
  • $93.4M for children’s mental health services, including $3.9M for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Program (MCPAP) and $675K for MCPAP for Moms to address mental health needs of pregnant and postpartum women
  • $489M for Adult Support Services, including assisted outpatient programming and comprehensive care coordination among health care providers
  • $25M to fully fund Department of Developmental Services “Turning 22” services to help young people with disabilities transition to adulthood
  • $5M for the coordination of a comprehensive statewide strategy, in partnership with municipalities, public health harm reduction organizations and  other stakeholders, to promote existing harm reduction efforts and community-based harm reduction services
  • $1M for the Healthy Relationship grants program to support teen dating violence prevention efforts

The Senate’s budget invests in programs and policies to educate, train, and prepare Massachusetts workers in order to provide them with opportunities to grow and succeed.  Opportunity investments include:

  • $38.5M for adult basic education services to improve access to skills and tools necessary to join the workforce
  • $15.6M for summer jobs and work-readiness training for at-risk youth
  • $7M for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund to connect unemployed and under-employed workers with higher paying jobs
  • $2M for Small Business Technical Assistance grants
  • $2M for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership
  • $1M for Regional Economic Development Organizations to support economic growth in all regions of the state

The Senate’s budget maintains the Senate’s commitment to increasing access to quality, affordable housing, investing in low-income housing and homelessness services and supports. Housing investments include:

  • $178.7M for Emergency Assistance Family Shelters
  • $110M for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)
  • $48.3M for assistance for homeless individuals
  • $21M for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), including $3M to continue expanding eligibility for individuals in need, including persons with disabilities, seniors, unaccompanied youth
  • $8M for the Alternative Housing Voucher Program (AHVP) providing rental assistance to people with disabilities and $2.7M for grants to improve or create accessible affordable housing units
  • $7.5M for rental subsidies to help those suffering from mental health find or maintain stable housing
  • $5M for housing and supportive services for unaccompanied homeless youth

The FY 2020 budget supports cities and towns by directing significant resources to local and regional aid.  In addition to traditional local aid, the Senate’s budget increases payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for state-owned land to $30M.  PILOT funding has been a beneficial source of local aid that provides cities and towns with additional resources to support core public services. Local investments include:

  • $1.129B for unrestricted general government aid to support community investments in education, health care, public safety and roads and bridges
  • $29.1M for the Board of Library Commissioners, $11.5M for regional library local aid, $9.9M for municipal libraries and $3.3M for technology and automated resources
  • $18M for the Massachusetts Cultural Council to support local arts, culture and creative economy initiatives
  • $18.1M for local Councils on Aging to strengthen programs and services in senior centers in communities across the state

A Conference Committee will now convene to reconcile the differences between the Senate budget and the version passed by the House of Representatives in April. Fiscal Year 2020 begins on July 1, 2019.

Column: Responding to Misinformation About the ROE Act

I respect that people of good will can have different views about abortion. My long held view is that a woman should have the right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health, including whether to seek an abortion. I don’t believe that our state or federal government should seek to deny or unreasonably restrict this fundamental right.

Given the recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and restrictive new abortion laws being passed in other states, access to safe, legal abortion care is now at risk in this country. That is why I have joined many of my legislative colleagues in co-sponsoring the ROE Act. This legislation seeks to protect women’s reproductive rights in Massachusetts so that even if Roe v Wade were to be overturned access to abortion would remain safe and legal in the Commonwealth.

It is very unfortunate that President Trump and some abortion opponents are making blatantly false and inflammatory claims about efforts in Massachusetts and other states to protect access to abortion care, including the outrageous accusation of “infanticide.” These attacks are intended to scare people, stigmatize women’s reproductive health care, and push abortion out of reach for most women.

The decision about whether and when to become a parent is one of the most important life decisions we make. When people can make decisions that are best for their lives, families thrive and we build communities where each of us can participate with dignity and equality.

Current Massachusetts law allows abortion after 24 weeks only if the life or health of the pregnant woman is at risk. The ROE Act adds a narrow exception to allow abortion after 24 weeks in the rare case of a fatal fetal diagnosis. Today, when this tragically occurs – as happened to my wife’s colleague in 2012 – a woman has to leave the state to seek an abortion.

When there are complications late in a pregnancy, any decision to treat the woman to save her health or life would include an attempt to save a viable pregnancy, if at all possible. Healthcare providers performing an abortion must comply with all medical standards and guidelines, just like all other health care professionals.

The ROE Act will ensure access to safe and affordable reproductive health care for all women in Massachusetts, regardless of the actions of the Trump administration or the Supreme Court. It will ensure that a woman’s health drives medical decisions and that families facing complex and deeply personal decisions can get the care they need in Massachusetts.

Senator Lewis to Host Forum on Teen Vaping Epidemic

Continuing his “Community Conversations” discussion series, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to host an upcoming conversation on the teen e-cigarette use, also known as “vaping.” Community Conversations are issue discussions delving into a different timely topic at each forum, with ample opportunity for residents to share feedback and have their questions answered by experts on the given topic.

This upcoming event — Community Conversations: Combating the Teen Vaping Epidemic — will take place on Wednesday, May 15, at 6:30pm. The event will occur at the Americal Civic Center, 467 Main St, Wakefield, and is free and open to the public.

Attendees will hear from Dr. Monica Bharel, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Elise Yannett, policy coordinator in the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey; and Maureen Buzby, coordinator of the Regional Tobacco Prevention Program. Introductory remarks will be offered by Senator Lewis, the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and the former Chair of the Committee on Public Health. There will be ample time for audience questions and community feedback.

With questions about attendance, please contact Senator Lewis’s office at (617) 722-1206 or Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov. All are welcome to attend, and teens and their families are especially encouraged to come and share their perspectives on the growing prevalence of teen vaping.

The forum is co-sponsored by Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth, Inc., State Representative Paul Brodeur, Representative Donald H. Wong, Mystic Valley Public Health Coalition, Malden Overcoming Addiction, Melrose Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse, Stoneham Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Community Wake-Up, and Winchester Coalition For A Safer Community.

Previous “Community Conversations” forums have addressed topics including: public education; public transportation; small business and entrepreneurship; challenges facing senior citizens and caregivers; veterans’ issues; mental health; housing; energy policy and environmental priorities; and, efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Senator Lewis Helps Pass Road Safety Bill

Senator Jason Lewis joined his Senate colleagues in voting unanimously to pass road safety legislation that will help make our roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

The bill, An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities, includes several measures that together will greatly improve road safety.  The bill classifies several groups, including pedestrians, utility workers, first responders and cyclists, as vulnerable road users and implements safe passing distances for motorists.

“We need to do everything possible to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities on our roads,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This legislation will help us take an important step in that direction by making our roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

The bill would further require trucks and similar large vehicles purchased, leased or under contract with the Commonwealth after a certain date to be equipped with lateral protective devices, convex mirrors and crossover mirrors to reduce the risk posed to vulnerable road users who are susceptible to being unseen by truck driver’s and slipping underneath large vehicles during accidents.

The bill would additionally establish a 25 mile per hour speed limit on an unposted area of state highway or parkway inside a thickly settled or business district within a city or town that has accepted the 25 mile per hour local option, as lower vehicle speeds reduce the possibility and severity of crashes.

Finally, the bill increases the flexibility of the Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit in active construction zones thereby significantly increasing the protection provided to vulnerable workers and first responders at the construction site.

An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. The State Senate is also expected to take up legislation in the near future to prohibit the use of handheld devices while driving, except in hands-free mode.

Column: Why the Fair Share Amendment is Good for Mass.

Massachusetts is a great place to live, work and raise a family. We are rightly proud of our state’s reputation as a national and international educational, scientific and economic leader. However, our Commonwealth also faces tremendous unmet needs that are hurting our families and communities and putting our economic future at risk.

According to the 2015 bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission, our public schools are underfunded by $1-2 billion, which is harming our ability to provide every student with the educational opportunities that they deserve. Inadequate state funding for our public colleges and universities has led to large increases in tuition and fees, and the average student debt load has more than doubled since 2004. For our youngest learners, shortfalls in state funding for early education mean that we have 51,000 young children living in poverty who are unable to access pre-school.

We have a crumbling transportation system that needs an investment of more than $8 billion just to bring roads, highways and the MBTA into a state of good repair. And we would need to invest another $9.5 billion to complete all necessary bridge repairs.

The challenges we are facing are immense, and in the context of our current budget capacity, they can sometimes feel insurmountable.

So how can we fund these critical unmet needs? Working families are tapped out with the high costs of housing, healthcare, transportation, childcare and other expenses. They are barely getting by, often working multiple jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. Although they would greatly benefit from investments in education and transportation, they cannot afford to pay higher taxes to fund these investments.

This is why I have filed legislation to revive the Fair Share Amendment, which would impose a 4% surtax on households earning more than $1 million a year, and dedicate the estimated $2 billion in new revenue to support education and transportation in the Commonwealth. These wealthy households can afford to pay slightly higher taxes to support the critical investments that we need.

Furthermore, under our current upside-down tax system, the wealthiest households in Massachusetts actually pay a lower share of their income in state and local taxes than do the poorest households. This is the exact opposite of a fair and progressive tax system.

This proposal is exactly the same as the citizens’ initiative that previously garnered strong support from the public and legislators. In 2015, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition launched a campaign for the Fair Share Amendment by collecting more than 157,000 signatures from Massachusetts voters. In May 2016 and again in June 2017, the state legislature voted overwhelmingly to advance the Fair Share Amendment to the ballot. The only difference is that this proposal is a legislative amendment to the state constitution. As such, it is not subject to the same legal challenge that derailed the citizens’ initiative last year.

Critics of the Fair Share Amendment claim that it will drive wealthy people and businesses out of Massachusetts. But extensive economic research shows that tax policy only has a small impact on where people choose to live. Other factors, such as quality of life, access to educational opportunity and a well-educated workforce, and high-quality healthcare are much more important.

I was not elected to simply accept the status quo. I believe we must adopt the Fair Share Amendment to make our tax system more progressive and raise the revenue we need to invest in our Commonwealth.