Guest Post: Concerned About Youth Vaping at Home while Schools are Closed?

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

Concerned About Youth Vaping at Home while Schools are Closed?

During these extraordinary times, when our lives are disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, schools, organizations, and activities are closed. While parents work to establish new routines at home and help their teens adapt, they may also be thinking about how to help their teens quit vaping or smoking. Youth are spending more time in the house and may be more stressed than usual. Parents may especially want to encourage quitting because of evidence coming out that vaping, like smoking, harms the ability of the lungs to fight infection.

Are you concerned about the youth in your life vaping while spending more time in the house? What are signs to look for? How can you help?

Here are suggestions from the Tobacco-Free Community Partnerships in Massachusetts to help you respond about youth vaping, including resources for learning more.

Q: What is in e-cigarettes and vapes? I hear that it is just flavored water. What is so bad about them?

A: E-cigarettes produce an aerosol, commonly called vapor, which users inhale from the device and exhale. This aerosol may have harmful and potentially harmful substances. E-cigarettes use pre-filled pods or e-liquids/e-juices that are added to the device. E-liquids generally consist of propylene glycol, glycerin, water, nicotine, and flavorings.

Q: What can I do to prevent my child or loved ones from vaping? 

A: Simply talking with your child about these products can help protect them. Let them know that you care about them and that vaping is not safe. Be patient and ready to listen; there is no” perfect time” to talk. Your goal is to have a conversation, not to deliver a lecture.  So avoid criticism and encourage an open dialogue. You can start by mentioning something that you heard about vaping. Tell them the facts: e-cigarettes contain nicotine; nicotine is a highly addictive substance. The smoke from vapes is an aerosol, not water vapor. The aerosol can contain harmful substances. The resources below can help you learn more.

Q: How can I tell if my child or loved one is vaping?

A:  Many types of e-cigarettes are made to resemble everyday items and come in fruity, minty, and candy-like flavors. So, you may not recognize a vaping device or an e-liquid scent.

Here are subtle signs your child might be vaping:

  • Unexplained Sweet Scent – If you notice a sweet scent that is unexplainable, it might be a flavored e-juice for a vaping device.
  • Unfamiliar Products – If you come across unusual looking items such as unusual pens or USB drives or an unfamiliar battery or battery charging device, they could be associated with vaping.

The best way to know is to educate yourself about the products and to talk with your kids.

Q:  How can I encourage youth and young adults to quit vaping?

A: There are currently two FREE programs available in Massachusetts to help youth and young adults quit vaping, smoking or using other tobacco products.

  1. This is Quitting powered by truth® is a texting program for young people who want to quit vaping. It is a free, confidential 30-day program during which youth receive texts with information, tips, and support. They receive daily text messages to help them prepare to quit and supportive texts from young people who have been through the program.  To enroll in the program, youth text “VapeFreeMass” to 88709. Go to mass.gov/quitvaping to learn more.
  2. My Life, My QuitTM is a specially designed program to help young people quit vaping or other tobacco products. My Life, My QuitTM  provides five free and confidential coaching sessions by phone, live texting, or chat with specially-trained youth coach specialists. Youth can text “Start My Quit” to 855-891-9989 or call toll-free 1-855-891-9989 for real-time coaching.  They can also visit mylifemyquit.com to learn more.

Q: How can I help adults who are trying to quit vaping, smoking or using other tobacco products?

A: Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to connect with the Massachusetts Smokers’ Helpline. The Helpline is a free and confidential service for Massachusetts residents who want help to end their nicotine and tobacco use. If you are looking to quit tobacco, you can now get help from a quit coach over the phone; or use online tools and resources; or a combination of these online features and telephone coaching. You can also enroll online using a computer or smartphone at KeepTryingMA.org.

Q: How can I learn more information and stay up-to-date? 

A:

To learn more, visit GetOutraged.org or contact me at (978) 722-2864 or ashley.hall@glfc.org

Sen. Lewis Reports State Action on Coronavirus Pandemic

After Governor Baker declared a State of Emergency for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on March 10, 2020, the state government has moved swiftly to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and related public health orders on the Massachusetts residents, businesses, and institutions.

In addition to working closely with the House of Representatives and the Baker Administration, the Massachusetts State Senate has also formed an emergency task force to help us better understand and respond to the many impacts of this outbreak on our families, schools, municipalities, businesses, and other institutions. Senator Jason Lewis was appointed by Senate President Karen Spilka to serve on this task force.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for our communities and our Commonwealth, and it demands decisive and effective leadership from all levels of government,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “In the midst of this crisis, it has been inspiring to see the response from our healthcare workers, first responders, and residents of our communities who are stepping up to support each other.”

In addition to federal actions, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken many major actions to address the pandemic, including the following:

  • The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has been activated and is bringing together health, human services, public safety and several other government agencies. This working group follows the Department of Public Health’s infectious disease task force that was stood up in January.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that by Monday, March 23, 2020, statewide capacity for COVID-19 daily testing would reach at least 3,500 tests analyzed per day.
  • The Massachusetts Legislature passed legislation authorizing the Baker administration to spend $15 million as it works with local health officials to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
  • The Legislature also passed a bill to enable immediate access to unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs as a result of the crisis, waiving waiting periods and loosening eligibility requirements for those seeking unemployment assistance.
  • To limit the spread of the virus, the Baker Administration ordered the closure of all schools and child care providers until at least April 6, 2020.
  • Similarly, Governor Baker ordered a halt to eat-in dining at restaurants and bars in order to minimize social contact and transmission of the virus.
  • The state created a $10 million loan fund for small businesses and non-profits to provide working capital, and pushed back sales tax and meals tax payments that would otherwise be due this month to help small businesses, especially restaurants, weather the storm.
  • Governor Baker ordered the activation of the Massachusetts National Guard, authorizing the activation of up to 2,000 National Guard members across the Commonwealth, who will be tasked with supporting requests from state agencies for equipment, logistics, warehousing, and related duties.

The State Senate and Senator Lewis’s office, following recommended best practices from public health authorities, are implementing “social distancing” practices to limit the chance of virus transmission, including canceling State House events and tours, holding virtual committee meetings, and enabling more work to be done remotely. To that end, Senator Lewis encourages constituents and advocates to contact his office by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov, by phone at (617) 722-1206, or through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Senator Lewis’s office will continue to provide constituent services to residents in need throughout the crisis.

Senator Lewis also strongly encourages residents to rely only upon trusted sources of information, such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for news about the coronavirus. Anyone in Massachusetts seeking more information about the coronavirus or the state’s response should visit mass.gov/covid19 or call 2-1-1 to reach the state’s COVID-19 hotline. Residents should also rely upon their local town or city website for up-to-date information about preventative actions at the local level and advice from public health authorities.

Statement from Sen. Lewis on the COVID-19 Virus

“We are facing an unprecedented situation with the global spread of the COVID-19 virus and the many impacts it is having on our communities. This is undoubtedly a confusing and challenging time for all of us to navigate, and we know that many of our neighbors, businesses, and institutions are facing significant disruption and hardship.

For information about the virus and actions we all need to take, please continue to rely upon only trustworthy sources of information — your local town or city officials and Board of Health, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). DPH is regularly updating a helpful website with many resources at:  https://www.mass.gov/resource/information-on-the-outbreak-of-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.

“Yesterday, my colleagues and I in the state Senate spent several hours discussing appropriate responses to the outbreak. Following recommended best practices from public health authorities, the Senate is implementing “social distancing” practices to limit the chance of virus transmission, including canceling State House events and tours, holding virtual committee meetings, and enabling more work to be done remotely. To that end, although the State House remains open to the public, I encourage constituents and advocates to contact my office by email at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov, by phone at (617) 722-1206, or through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Please rest assured that my office will continue providing constituent services and we remain focused on our work on the state budget, legislation, and important community projects.

“In addition to working closely with the House of Representatives and the Baker Administration, the Senate has also formed a Task Force to help us better understand and respond to the many impacts of this outbreak on our families, schools, municipalities, businesses, and other institutions. Please share with my office issues and concerns that you or your organization may encounter as we continue to deal with this rapidly evolving situation. We will consider appropriate actions that our state government needs to take, including providing additional resources and legislative action.”

Sen. Lewis Will Host Forum on the Region’s Transportation and Commuting Challenges

BOSTON – Continuing his “Community Conversations” discussion series, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to host an upcoming conversation on policy strategies to address the Commonwealth’s transportation and commuting challenges. 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: What Will It Take to Fix Transportation in Greater Boston?will take place on Wednesday, March 11, at 6:30pm. The event will occur at the Malden High School Gallery, 77 Salem Street, Malden, MA and is free and open to the public. Malden High School is easily reached by public transportation on the MBTA Orange Line and local public bus lines.

The program will begin with a presentation from Senator Lewis, the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and the Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, discussing the results of a survey his office recently conducted to learn more about attitudes towards transportation systems and commuting from residents of the Fifth Middlesex District. Senator Lewis will also discuss pending transportation proposals in the Legislature.

Attendees will also hear from Chris Dempsey, the Director of the Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) advocacy coalition, and Erin Wortman, President of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and Director of Planning & Community Development for the Town of Stoneham. There will be ample time for audience questions and community feedback.

With questions about the event, please contact Senator Lewis’s office at (617) 722-1206 or Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov. You can also RSVP to the Facebook event. All are welcome to attend.

The forum is co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Transportation for Massachusetts, Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, Melrose Mayor Paul Brodeur, State Representative Paul Donato, State Representative Steve Ultrino, the Melrose Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee, Walkable Reading, and the Stoneham Transportation Advisory Committee.

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; sustainability and environmental priorities; and efforts to combat substance abuse and opioid addiction in our region.

Sen. Lewis Joins Unanimous, Bipartisan Vote for Sweeping Mental Health Legislation

BOSTON – On February 13, Senator Jason Lewis joined the Massachusetts Senate to unanimously pass the Mental Health ABC Act, comprehensive legislation aimed at reforming the mental health care system in Massachusetts. Senate Bill 2519, An Act Addressing Barriers to Care (ABC) for Mental Health, serves as the first step toward developing a more integrated system of mental health care delivery to better meet the needs of individuals and families.

Massachusetts residents have historically experienced difficulty accessing mental health services due to health inequities and persistent barriers to care—leaving many without the treatment they need and deserve. According to a 2018 report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts, over half of a representative sample of fully insured adults who sought mental health care services reported difficulty finding services.

The Mental Health ABC Act seeks to increase access by removing barriers to timely quality care, providing the state with more effective tools to enforce existing mental health parity laws, and investing in the mental and behavioral health workforce pipeline.

“Health care should be a basic human right, but too many in Massachusetts struggle to access affordable, quality and timely mental health care,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “We believe that mental health care is for everyone, and this bill will equip our Commonwealth to lead the nation in ensuring that residents can access the mental health care that they need for themselves and their loved ones.”

“The Mental Health ABC Act acknowledges the realities that parents of children with behavioral health needs face every day in ensuring their child’s safety and wellbeing,” said Mary McGeown, Executive Director, MSPCC, on behalf of the Children’s Mental Health Campaign. “The Act takes steps to uncomplicate access to care by allowing both physical and behavioral health treatment to be provided in the same day, and by creating a path to that clinical decisions are made by clinicians rather than insurance companies.” 

“An Act Addressing Barriers to Care for Mental Health is an incredibly progressive and forward-thinking piece of legislation that will benefit social workers working in mental and behavioral health and the clients and communities served by social workers across the Commonwealth,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers, MA Chapter. “As the crisis of mental health access has escalated both nationally and here in Massachusetts, we applaud the Senate’s proactive and comprehensive approach that will help us to finally achieve mental health parity in our state”.

“Massachusetts hospitals have long sought parity in coverage between behavioral health and medical/surgical care,” said Steve Walsh, President & CEO, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA). “I applaud the Senate for their leadership on an issue so critical and personal to our patients and their families. This legislation is an important step forward in ensuring that every Massachusetts resident has access to the mental health services they need and deserve.”

The Mental Health ABC Act is driven by the recognition that mental health is just as important as physical health for every resident of the Commonwealth—and reflects the Senate’s overall goal of improving access to mental health care for all. The Senate has prioritized efforts in the 2019–2020 legislative session to improve the delivery of mental health services in the Commonwealth in the following ways: appropriating record funding levels for mental health services in the FY20 budget; creating and funding a $10 million Behavioral Health Outreach, Access and Support Trust Fund; ensuring that health insurer’s provider network directories are accurate and up-to-date by eliminating so-called ‘ghost networks’; and protecting clinicians from unreasonable retroactive claims denials, or ‘clawbacks’ of payments for services, from insurance providers.

Despite these achievements, there is a lot more to do. The Mental Health ABC Act builds on the Senate’s efforts to improve the Commonwealth’s mental health care system by addressing issues related to mental health parity, workforce needs, and access to care.

More on the bill:  

The Mental Health ABC Act provides the state with better tools to implement and enforce mental health parity laws, which require that insurance coverage for mental health benefits be equal to and no more restrictive than coverage for physical health benefits. Mental health parity has been codified in federal and state law for decades, but enforcement of the law has been challenging. As a result, inequities persist and patients are often denied coverage for mental health treatment that is just as critical to managing their health as treatment for conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. As such, this legislation includes quicker evaluation and resolution of parity complaints, greater reporting and oversight of insurance carriers’ processes and policies related to mental health care coverage, and penalties and alternative remedies for when an insurance company does not comply with the law.

Every day throughout the Commonwealth, adults and children arrive in emergency departments in the throes of acute mental health crises requiring immediate treatment in an appropriate setting. Due to complex and restrictive medical necessity and prior authorization review processes imposed by insurance companies, many patients experience barriers, and delays, in treatment – creating a dysfunctional system that allows insurance companies to have more leverage in determining a patient’s course of treatment than health care providers. As such, the bill mandates coverage and eliminates prior authorization for mental health acute treatment for adults and children experiencing acute mental health crises, effectively placing treatment decisions in the hands of the treating clinician in consultation with the patient rather than an insurance company.

In an effort to address the mental health workforce crisis that often limits patient access to care, the bill creates a pilot program through the Department of Higher Education aimed at creating a workforce pipeline to encourage and support individuals from diverse backgrounds to work toward careers in mental health. In addition, the bill creates an interim licensure program for Licensed Mental Health Counselors so that they can be reimbursed by insurance for their services and be eligible for state and federal grant and loan forgiveness programs, increasing the number of licensed providers able to serve patients.

The bill also calls for an academic study conducted by the Office of Health Equity to review the availability of culturally competent mental health care providers within networks of both public and private health care payers, as well as to identify potential barriers to care for underserved cultural, ethnic and linguistic populations and the LGBTQ community. The bill further directs an interagency health equity team under the Office of Health Equity to improve access to, and the quality of, culturally competent mental health services.

The bill creates a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Fellowship Pilot Program in community health centers to offer additional support and training to psychiatric nurse practitioners who agree to work in community settings with underserved populations. The program will be designed to encourage these professionals to continue working in a community setting where mental health providers are sorely needed.

Currently, mental health and primary care providers are reimbursed at different rates for the same service. The bill seeks to level the playing field for reimbursement to mental health providers by requiring an equitable rate floor for evaluation and management services that is consistent with primary care.

The Mental Health ABC Act takes meaningful steps to improve access to care by prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for mental health services and primary care services solely because they were delivered on the same day in the same facility. This will remove a significant financial barrier to the integration of primary care and mental health.

Additionally, the bill requires emergency departments to have the capacity to evaluate and stabilize a person admitted with a mental health presentation at all times, and to refer them to appropriate treatment or inpatient admission.

This bill authorizes the DPH, the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to collaborate on authorizing three pilots for tele-behavioral health services in public high schools in the Commonwealth. This pilot is based on an existing and successful model between a hospital and several school districts in western Massachusetts.

Finally, the bill directs the DMH to consider factors that may present barriers to care—such as travel distance and access to transportation—when contracting for services in geographically isolated and rural communities.

Through debate in the Senate, the following are some of the sections added by amendment to the bill:

  • A pediatric mental health care task force.
  • Inclusion of veterans and aging adult populations for considerations in the cultural competency study.
  • An amendment to study the further screening of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
  • A comprehensive behavioral workforce commission.
  • An expedited admission protocol for children under 22 who present in an emergency department with mental health needs.
  • An examination of ways to ease communications, within the context of privacy laws, between health care providers.

The Mental Health ABC Act now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Click here to learn more about the specific provisions of the Mental Health ABC Act.

Column: The Safe Communities Act Promotes Public Safety and Strengthens Civil Rights

Every resident of Massachusetts has a constitutional right to be free and safe. The Massachusetts state constitution, the world’s oldest functioning written constitution, declares that:

All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

This means that every Massachusetts resident has a right to freedom and safety when dropping their kids off at school, visiting a government building like a courthouse or Town Hall, calling 911 for help in an emergency, or pulling over to ask a local police officer for assistance. It is simple to understand that our communities are more secure, more tightly knit, and more hospitable when every resident is safe and free in their interactions with the community and with their local government.

But because of cruel and draconian federal immigration policies, which indiscriminately target undocumented immigrants for deportation instead of focusing on violent offenders or recent border crossers, immigrants in our communities are justifiably frightened to answer civil court summons, attend parent-teacher conferences, or even to call the police when they are the victims of a crime.

The Safe Communities Act is a bill before the state legislature that will guarantee that in Massachusetts, no one has to live in fear, and everyone’s civil rights will be respected. It pursues this goal with a few key provisions.

First, the bill bars law enforcement and court personnel from asking people about their immigration status unless required by law. The Massachusetts State Police already employs a similar policy. Many immigrants fear that calling 911 or speaking to the police may lead to separation from family members – especially children –making them more vulnerable to domestic abuse, wage theft and other crimes. When crimes like that go unchecked, it hurts the entire community.

Second, the Safe Communities Act protects due process rights of detained immigrants by requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to obtain their consent using a form that explains their right to decline an interview or have their own attorney present. Without these protections, people often make statements or sign documents jeopardizing their immigration cases. Everyone deserves legal representation and the opportunity to defend themselves in court.

Finally, the bill ends contracts with ICE that allow state and county law enforcement personnel to act as federal immigration agents at state taxpayers’ expense. Massachusetts is the only state in New England to have such agreements, which redirect already-scarce police resources to do the job of federal officials, instead of community policing and other local priorities.

The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association have supported the Safe Communities Act because police chiefs understand that it will help our local law enforcement officers to do their jobs and make our communities safer for all. Unfortunately, some opponents of the bill falsely claim that it will prevent immigrants from being arrested for committing a crime; in fact, any person who commits a crime– including any documented or undocumented immigrant– would continue to be held fully responsible under state and federal law.

Many residents from our communities have contacted me urging me to support the Safe Communities Act, and thanks to their advocacy, my personal experiences as an immigrant to the United States, and my deeply held conviction that all people deserve to be safe and treated with respect, I’m a proud co-sponsor of the Safe Communities Act.

Sen. Lewis Supports Passage of Next Generation Climate Policy

The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday advanced three bills that boldly tackle the contributing factors of climate change, chart one of the most aggressive courses of action against global warming in the country, and pave the way for a clean energy future for all of its residents.

An Act Setting Next Generation Climate Policy and two companion bills — one dealing with electrifying fleets and another updating energy efficiency standards for appliances  —  passed overwhelmingly and with bi-partisan support.

“In Massachusetts we are leading the nation into a clean energy future,” said Senator Jason Lewis, “and this package of climate legislation offers programs and supports to help our residents and businesses as we tackle the challenge of climate change together.”

Senator Lewis was lead sponsor of the appliance efficiency standard legislation. He worked closely with the Green Energy Consumer Alliance in the development of the bill.

Key provisions of the climate policy package include:

  • Setting a statewide greenhouse gas limit for the year 2050 of “net zero” emissions.  To achieve this, An Act Setting Next-Generation Climate Policy requires the state to hit near-term limits in 2025, 2030, and every five years thereafter; set sub-limits for transportation, buildings, solid waste, natural gas distribution, and other major sectors; and make implementation plans that are “clear, comprehensive, and specific.”
  • Establishing the Massachusetts Climate Policy Commission.  The commission would be a new, independent public watchdog to oversee government’s handling of the unfolding crisis of climate change.  Commissioners will be charged with offering a nonpartisan, science-based view of the problem as it plays out in Massachusetts with its attendant natural, economic, and demographic impacts and risks.
  • Reflecting the price of carbon.  Under the bill, the Administration would be free to choose among various market based forms of pricing carbon—including a revenue-neutral fee or a regional “cap and trade” system similar to the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI)—but he or she would have to do so by Jan. 1, 2022, for transportation; Jan. 1, 2025, for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings; and Jan. 1, 2030, for residential buildings.  Any mechanism would be implemented so as to minimize the impact on low-income households, disadvantaged communities, and vulnerable manufacturing sectors.
  • Providing legislative direction to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the state’s primary energy oversight agency, for the first time.  Compensating for a decades-long omission, the bill assigns the DPU a mission statement.  It requires the agency to balance six priorities: reliability of supply, affordability, public safety, physical and cyber security, equity, and, significantly, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Jumpstarting efforts to supply low-cost solar electricity to low-income communities.  To reverse the failure of state programs to incentivize solar energy projects in low-income neighborhoods, as well as spur job creation, the bill requires the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to set aside future solar allocations for such neighborhoods.
  • Letting cities and towns adopt a “net zero” stretch energy code.  The bill allows the state to support communities that choose on their own to move away from fossil fuels as the source of heating for new buildings.  The state’s contribution is to promulgate a “net zero” energy code, so that localities have the option available if they want to use it.  The bill shifts responsibility for the code’s development from the Board of Building Regulations and Standards to the DOER.
  • Nudging natural gas utilities to adapt.  The bill authorizes utilities to test technology and pipelines that generate and transport “renewable thermal energy,” an emissions-free way to heat buildings that draws on the relative warmth of temperatures below ground.
  • Strengthening executive branch oversight of MassSave.  The bill directs the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to set emissions reduction goals, in advance, for each three-year plan the utilities formulate for MassSave.  It requires the DPU, at the conclusion of each three-year plan, to certify how much the plan actually contributed to meeting the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emission limits.
  • Tightening the alignment between MassSave and emissions limits.  The bill requires electric utilities to include an explicit value for emissions reductions whenever they calculate the cost-effectiveness of a MassSave offering.
  • Setting a deadline for converting MTBA buses to all-electric power.  An Act to Accelerate the Transition of Cars, Trucks, and Buses to Carbon Free Power directs the MBTA to limit bus purchases and leases to zero-emissions vehicles beginning in 2030, and to aim for an all-zero-emissions fleet by 2040, to reduce transportation-related emissions in city neighborhoods.
  • Offsetting the Trump Administration’s efforts to slow progress on efficient appliances.  An Act Relative to Energy Savings Efficiency updates Massachusetts appliance standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for common household and commercial appliances, helping to conserve energy and save consumers and businesses money.

Other provisions include:

  • Assembling the state’s first-ever database of energy use in large buildings.
  • Adding two building efficiency experts and an expert in advanced building technology to the membership of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards, which will retain responsibility for the base energy building code.
  • Authorizing the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) to fund energy innovation pilots, and to take actions addressing health effects associated with the distribution and consumption of fossil fuels such as natural gas.
  • Directing the DPU to consider the impact on emissions when it reviews electric and natural gas rates, prices, charges, and contracts.
  • Directing state government to limit purchases and leases of vehicles to zero emissions vehicles only, beginning in 2024, if affordable replacements are available.
  • Conducting a study of the opportunities to electrify vehicles owned or leased by municipalities, regional school districts, and regional transit authorities, taking into account costs and possible sources of financial help from state and federal government.
  • Providing permanent statutory authorization for the “MOR-EV” program, the Commonwealth’s system of financial incentives for purchasers of zero emission vehicles.

During debate on the Senate floor, the bill was strengthened through amendments that, among others, require regional equity in carbon pricing and ensure equity is a component of The Department of Public Utilities mission statement.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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