Column: We need gender and racial diversity on state boards and commissions

Shirley Leung’s column (“Where are the women on the state’s list of highest-paid workers,” Jan 9) shed light on the small number of women in the top ranks of state employees.

We believe that increasing both gender and racial diversity in our state’s workforce and leadership, in both the public and private sectors, is the right thing to do as well as an economic imperative for our Commonwealth.

One often-overlooked sector of our state leadership are the several hundred appointed boards and commissions, ranging from the Health Policy Commission to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to the Board of the Massachusetts Port Authority. The members of these bodies – most often appointed by the Governor but also by other elected officials and organizations – have a wide range of responsibilities and powers.

Government works best when citizens are involved in the policy making process but we need to ensure the citizens appointed to these public boards and commissions are a reflection of those who make up the Commonwealth.  We know that women make up a little over half of the population in Massachusetts, however, according to an analysis by the Eos Foundation of the 50 most prominent boards and commissions, only 32% are currently at gender parity and many have very few women and people of color.

That’s why we filed legislation that would require gender parity and racial diversity on our state’s public boards and commissions. A few other states have taken similar measures to ensure diversity in their top leadership, and we believe it is time for Massachusetts to do likewise.

 

State Senator Jason Lewis
State Representative Patricia Haddad

Senator Lewis Supports Bill to Strengthen School Breakfasts & Address Childhood Hunger

BOSTON – On January 16, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to fight childhood hunger and boost participation rates in school breakfast programs in the Commonwealth’s high-poverty schools. The bill,  An Act regarding breakfast after the bell (S.2460), would require all public K-12 schools with 60 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins.

“We all understand that a hungry student is not ready to be a successful student, and Breakfast After the Bell is a proven strategy to close the hunger gap and ensure that all kids can start their school day on a level playing field,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and a longtime advocate for the legislation. “As the Commonwealth continues to strive for an excellent and equitable educational experience for every child, regardless of their ZIP code or family income, this is an important step along the road to closing opportunity and achievement gaps in our schools.”

“We have spent the last two years building a strong coalition of support, which includes school stakeholders, hunger advocates and legislators,” said Catherine D’Amato, CEO at The Greater Boston Food Bank, which leads the Rise and Shine Massachusetts coalition. “This is the moment we have been waiting for and we are looking forward to passing a bill that will assist with increasing access to school breakfast to over 150,000 low-income students across Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts currently requires all high-poverty schools to provide breakfast to every eligible student. However, because breakfast is typically offered before the bell and in the cafeteria, participation levels are low— at less than 40 percent— compared to 80-90 percent participation for free and reduced lunch. Moving breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven strategy to boost breakfast participation to ensure that all students have the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn.

This legislation would require approximately 600 Massachusetts schools serving low-income students to offer breakfast after the tardy bell through a variety of delivery models, including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go, and second-chance breakfast. This flexibility allows school districts to select the model that best fits their students’ needs

As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $30 million statewide to Massachusetts school districts that increase participation rates to 80 percent and above. These payments are made directly to school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options.

Now that the Senate has passed its version, it will move to reconcile the legislation with a similar version that passed the House of Representatives.

Sharing the Results of the Transportation and Commuting Survey

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to our survey on transportation and commuting! We are pleased to share the results.
We are also planning our next Community Conversation to review the survey results and discuss solutions to our region’s transportation challenges. Stay tuned for details of this event coming soon. Your input and feedback are invaluable as the state legislature prepares to debate transportation legislation in the coming months.
– Senator Jason Lewis

Senator Lewis Joins Bipartisan Vote to Pass the Healthy Youth Act

BOSTON – Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate passed S.2459, An Act relative to healthy youth.  This bill will ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum that covers a comprehensive range of topics. The legislation also calls for sex education to be inclusive and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“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, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “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.”

Senator Lewis is a longtime champion of this legislation, and was a leader in the Senate advocating its passage this session.

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 offer sex education to follow certain guidelines to ensure students are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive information, including:

  • benefits of delaying sex;
  • human anatomy, reproduction, and sexual development;
  • effective contraceptive use;
  • prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs);
  • relationship and communication skills to form healthy relationships;
  • coverage of affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent; and
  • age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation, including resources that offer support to LGBTQ students.

The Senate passed similar versions of the Healthy Youth Act in prior sessions and this most recent version incorporates additional feedback from experts as well as advocates. The legislation does not require schools to offer sex education and also protects parent’s’ right to remove their children from all or part of sex education if they chose to do so — an action protected by state law. In addition, it provides districts that teach sex education curriculum with updated guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.

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.

Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of delaying sex, while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences. As demonstrated by numerous studies, comprehensive sex education programs are proven to delay the initiation of sex, increase use of contraception, lower the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among teens, and reduce reported levels of bullying towards LGBTQ youth in school.

A 2018 poll conducted by EMC Research showed overwhelming bipartisan support for sex education in Massachusetts, with 92% of likely voters agreeing that students should receive sex education in high school and 89% of likely voters agree that sex education should include comprehensive information, such as how to build healthy relationships and understand consent.

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

Guest Post: What You Need to Know about the New Tobacco Law

This guest post was authored by Ashley Hall, MS, Program Manager of the Northeast Tobacco-Free Community Partnership.

A new tobacco law in Massachusetts is now in place and it affects where tobacco and vaping products can be sold.  These changes are designed to reduce the youth vaping epidemic in Massachusetts and stop tobacco companies from targeting and addicting young people.  The tobacco and vaping industries have long targeted youth, LGBTQ populations and communities of color, resulting in terrible health consequences for the public.

Here’s a simple summary of how the law will change where and what tobacco and vaping products can be sold.

  • The new law substantially restricts where e-cigarette and nicotine vaping products and flavored tobacco products can be purchased.
  • Now all flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine vaping products can only be purchased for on-site consumption at licensed adult-only smoking bars in Massachusetts.
  • Non-flavored nicotine products with a nicotine content of 35 milligrams per milliliter or less can continue to be purchased at stores licensed to sell tobacco products like convenience stores, gas stations, liquor stores and bodegas.
  • Non-flavored nicotine products with over 35 milligrams per milliliter of nicotine content can only be purchased at licensed, adult-only retail tobacco stores and smoking bars.
  • Beginning on June 1, 2020, menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products like cigars and flavored chewing tobacco can only be purchased for on-site consumption at licensed, adult-only smoking bars.
  • Also on June 1, 2020, the price of e-cigarettes and nicotine vaping products will increase because of the addition of a 75% excise tax on the wholesale price.

The new law substantially restricts the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products to protect youth since flavors, including mint and menthol, are a leading reason they start using them.  Local Boards of Health have the authority to assure that the new law is being followed by retailers in their communities.   For more information, visit mass.gov/NewTobaccoLaw.

Contact Ashley Hall, MS, Program Manager of the Northeast Tobacco-Free Community Partnership at ashley.hall@glfhc.org  or (978) 799-8643 to learn more about how this new law will protect youth from tobacco addiction and fight the tobacco industry’s targeting of youth, LGBTQ and communities of color with vaping products and menthol cigarettes.

Help for those who want to quit vaping, smoking or using other tobacco products is available at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) and KeepTryingMA.org.  Organizations that want to support people in quitting can contact Ashley Hall for information and guidance on simple strategies they can implement.

Please fill out our brief transportation and commuting survey

The State Senate is working on legislation to improve the state’s transportation system, including roads, bridges and public transit.

As the Senate debates various proposals, it is invaluable for Senator Lewis to hear your ideas and feedback.

Senator Lewis invites constituents to fill out a brief survey, which can be found at this link. The survey should only take a few minutes to complete and all responses will be anonymous.

Constituents may also contact Senator Lewis anytime by phone at (617) 722-1206 or by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov with any concerns to bring to his attention or feedback to share with him on any issue.

Sen. Lewis Applauds Distracted Driving Law to Improve Road Safety

BOSTON – After it was passed by the House of Representatives and the State Senate, Governor Baker signed legislation into law last month banning drivers from using hand-held electronic devices in vehicles unless they are in hands-free mode.

The bill defines hands-free mode as one that engages in voice communication with and receiving audio without touching, holding or otherwise manually manipulating a mobile electronic device. Law enforcement officials will issue warnings to drivers for first offenses of the new law until March 31, 2020.

“Our communities face an epidemic of distracted driving, putting the health and safety of all our residents at risk” 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.”

Additionally, this legislation improves transparency in public safety by granting expanded access to traffic stop data.  It has been 15 years since the last public report on traffic stop data; under this bill the state will be required to publish and analyze the data annually.  Expanding access to this information improves transparency and improves public safety outcomes.

The bill will also:

  • Allow for drivers to use mapping or navigation devices if they are affixed to the windshield, dashboard or central console or integrated into the vehicle and only involve a tap or a swipe;
  • Exempt use of electronics in the case of an emergency and for first responders if they are using the devices as part of their duties;
  • Penalize drivers with $100 fine for the first offence, $250 fine and safety course for the second offence and $500 fine and surcharge for third and subsequent offences;
  • Expand data collection of identifying characteristics including age, race and gender and location when police issue a uniform citation;
  • Hold law enforcement agencies accountable, if data suggests those jurisdictions may be engaging in racial profiling, by requiring them to collect data on all traffic stops for a one-year period and provide implicit bias training;
  • Require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPPS) to publish data online annually, conduct an annual analysis of the data collected, and hold public hearings to review findings; and
  • Create a public awareness campaign informing and educating drivers on the dangers of using technological devices while driving.

Sen. Lewis Joins Senate to Pass Plastic Bag Ban

BOSTON – On November 20, The Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill that would implement a statewide ban on all carry-out plastic bags at checkout from retail stores.

The bill requires retailers to charge at least 10 cents for a recycled paper bag at check out, and directs that five cents of the amount collected from the sale of paper bags go back to the city or town for enforcement of the ban, as well as for other municipal recycling efforts.  The retailer may keep the remainder of the fee to recoup the costs of providing paper bags.

“This legislation reflects our Commonwealth’s strong commitment to protecting the environment while collaborating and consulting closely with stakeholders from both the retail and environmental community,” said Senator Jason Lewis, who voted for the bill’s passage. “Many of our communities have already passed measures to limit plastic bags and encourage the use of reusable bags, and this bill will improve fairness by setting the same standards statewide and have a bigger impact on environmental protection than any single city or town could create on its own.”

To provide consistency for retailers across the state, the bill would preempt existing plastic bag bans already implemented in cities and towns.  In addition, the ban would continue to allow for plastic bags for specific products where plastic serves an enhanced purpose, such as for produce, poultry or other food items to keep them fresh, or for frozen items or items prone to leak, for example.

To address concerns about cost, the bill allows small retail shops, which use a small number of carry-out bags, additional time to comply with the fee requirement.  It also allows persons paying for their purchase with an EBT card to acquire their recycled carry-out paper bag for no fee.

Single use plastic bags are particularly detrimental to the environment.  Only a small amount of the billions of plastic bags used in the US are recycled, as they contaminate curbside single stream recycling systems.  Those that are recycled are not turned into new plastic bags, meaning new plastic must be produced to create new bags.

Because plastic bags are abundant and unlikely to be recycled, they end up as litter.  In the ocean, whales, sea turtles, and birds become seriously injured or die when they mistake plastic bags for food.  In landfills or when incinerated, plastic bags release contaminants into the ground or air, further damaging the environment.

Over 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have already passed local laws banning plastic, as have Maine, Vermont, New York City, Washington DC, Hawaii, California, Connecticut and Delaware.  Of those jurisdictions, California, Connecticut and Vermont all charge 10 cents for a disposable bag, while Oregon, Maine and DC and NYC all charge five cents.  Fees on paper bags have proven to be an important tool for reducing disposable bag usage.  In Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, which has had a 10 cent fee on paper bags in place for over three years, they have seen a 50 to 80% reduction in single-use bags taken out at stores.

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

Legislature Passes Landmark Legislation to Ban Sales of Flavored Tobacco, Protect Young People from Nicotine Addiction

BOSTON – On November 20, the Massachusetts Senate passed landmark legislation to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. In the wake of widespread increases in youth vaping, this bill offers a comprehensive approach to protecting young people from nicotine use and addiction. The bill, An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control, bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol; institutes a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigarettes and e-liquids; and expands health coverage for tobacco use cessation products and counseling. Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law on November 27, 2019, and the law will take effect on June 1, 2020.

“Across the communities in our Commonwealth and especially in our high schools, youth vaping has reached epidemic levels, and it’s vital for the protection of our youth and of our public health that we ban the sale of flavored cigarettes and vaping products,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Education Committee and past Chair of the Public Health Committee. “The predatory tobacco industry uses ‘fun’ flavors like mango and cotton candy, cheap prices and hip social media marketing to target our youth and hook them with a lifelong addiction to their harmful products.”

While the Commonwealth has made significant progress in preventing youth smoking rates in the last two decades, youth use of e-cigarettes and vaping products has increased dramatically. The 2017 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey reported over 20 percent of high school students were currently vaping–a rate six times that of adult use. More recent reports put estimates on youth e-cigarette use closer to 27 percent.

An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control specifically targets the sale of flavored tobacco products because they have historically been used to attract young people. Flavored cigarettes were banned by the federal government in 2009 as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. However, that law did not apply to other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, which come in over 8,000 flavors with youth appeal such as ‘gummy bear,’ cotton candy, fruit punch, mint and menthol.

The law bans the sale of all flavors, including menthol, for all tobacco products including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and snuff. Youth smokers remain the age group most likely to smoke mentholated cigarettes, and menthol smoking prevalence now exceeds non-menthol smoking prevalence among both young and young adult smokers.

“We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for taking an important step in protecting future generations of Massachusetts residents from a lifetime of tobacco addiction,” said Allyson Perron Drag, Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association in Massachusetts. “The easy availability of menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored hookah and kid-friendly, e-cigarette flavors is causing an increase in youth tobacco use of epic proportion. The removal of all flavors from all tobacco products is essential for reducing their appeal to our children. We thank Senate President Spilka, Senator Keenan, Senator Chandler, Senator Cyr, Senator Lewis, and Senator Comerford for their leadership in protecting all kids in the Commonwealth.”

“While Massachusetts has long been at the forefront in this area, thanks to the Senate’s action today, we are poised to lead the nation by passing legislation that would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, keeping these deadly products out of the hands of our kids,” said Marc Hymovitz, Director Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Massachusetts. “ACS CAN commends Senate President Karen Spilka, Senator John Keenan, Senator Harriette Chandler, Senator Julian Cyr, Senator Jason Lewis and their colleagues for taking this historic vote that will truly save lives.”

The new law also institutes a 75 percent excise tax on both e-cigarettes and e-liquids. Taxing tobacco products is a proven method of decreasing youth use and this bill will bring the sales price of e-cigarettes to near parity with cigarette prices.

The law will expand health insurance coverage for tobacco cessation so that people have access to the products and counseling necessary to quit nicotine. The bill requires coverage of at least one cessation product without prior authorization for MassHealth, Group Insurance Commission, and private insurance members.

Further provisions regarding e-cigarettes and vape products were included in the bill to regulate this growing market, including: expanding oversight of the Department of Revenue to include e-cigarette retailers; limiting the sale of e-cigarette products with nicotine content higher than 20 milligrams per milliliter to adult-only stores; and establishing penalties for the illegal distribution of e-cigarettes.

Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remain the leading causes of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts. Each year, more than 9,300 people die from tobacco use across the state and smoking-related illnesses are responsible for more than $4 billion in annual healthcare costs to the Commonwealth.

Column: Successful School Funding Reform

Last week Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the Student Opportunity Act. The signing ceremony took place at English High School in Boston, the oldest public high school in America, with cheering students, teachers, parents, advocates and lawmakers in attendance.

This landmark legislation, years in the making, recommits our Commonwealth to one of its most fundamental values – that every child deserves access to a high quality public education. Massachusetts will now have the most progressive school funding formula in the nation, designed to meaningfully address the stubborn and troubling opportunity and achievement gaps that persist in our public education system.

As the Senate Chair of the Education Committee, it has been an incredible privilege to help lead this effort. It is also very personal. The issue of providing adequate and equitable state funding to all our local schools and communities was what first motivated me to run for the state legislature a decade ago. I had seen firsthand in my daughter’s elementary school the impact of losing librarians and cuts in art and music and other programs. The first (and only) time I had visited the State House prior to being elected was when I joined other parents on a bus to Beacon Hill to lobby for more school funding. I have worked on this issue ever since, sponsoring the legislation that created the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission and joining with other legislators and advocates to press for reforms to the Chapter 70 school funding formula.

The Student Opportunity Act is the most significant update to how we fund public education in Massachusetts since the Education Reform Act of 1993. It will provide new resources to all public school districts, with a particular focus on ensuring equity in funding for districts that serve the largest numbers of disadvantaged students. The Student Opportunity Act fully implements all the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, and also addresses a number of other fiscal challenges facing many school districts, including transportation costs for special education students, charter school tuition reimbursements, and school building renovations.

The Student Opportunity Act also recognizes that more money alone will not close persistent achievement gaps. It is important that these funds are spent wisely by local school districts to ensure that the students who most need help receive the appropriate academic and social services and supports. The legislation requires that every district develop a comprehensive three-year school improvement plan, including clear targets and goals for improvement, evidence-based strategies to close achievement gaps, and extensive parent and community engagement. Each district will then report annually on its progress, and all of this information will be publicly available.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the education stakeholders whose voices were instrumental in shaping the Student Opportunity Act and getting it across the finish line: students, parents, teachers, administrators, school committee members, teacher unions, business groups, community groups, social justice advocates, and others.

We have a lot of work ahead of us as we now implement the Student Opportunity Act, but I’m excited that this legislation and the historic level of new funding it will provide to our public schools will make a meaningful difference for students and educators today and for future generations to come.