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.

With Senator Lewis, Legislature Funds Family Planning Services

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate voted to allocate $8 million in funding for family planning clinics in the Commonwealth to offset potential cuts to the federal Title X program proposed by the Trump administration.

Title X is a federal grant program which prioritizes the needs of low-income families or uninsured people (including those who are not eligible for Medicaid) who might not otherwise have access to family planning and preventative health services. Under a recent proposal, the federal government is planning to withhold Title X funding for any Massachusetts family planning clinic which counsels individuals on abortion as an option or provides abortion as one of its services. Family planning clinics offer a variety of services, including contraceptives, screenings for cancer and sexually transmitted illnesses, and specialized family planning care.

The Legislature’s action would provide $8 million for entities to access, allowing the state to offset possible reductions and help preserve services provided to 80,000 Massachusetts families.

The legislation passed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on Wednesday in a bipartisan 139-14 vote, and the State Senate gave its approbation on Thursday.

“I applaud my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for providing state dollars to fill the gap that will be left by the Trump administration’s misguided attempt to defund family planning services,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “Massachusetts residents have a fundamental right to access all family planning services as part of their reproductive health care, and the legislature remains committed to ensuring access to those services.”

Senator Lewis Accepting Applications for Summer 2019 State House Internships

Senator Jason Lewis is looking for civic-minded individuals interested in a summer internship in his State House office. State Senator Jason Lewis proudly represents the people of the Fifth Middlesex District of Massachusetts, which includes the cities and towns of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, and parts of Winchester. He currently serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, and he has been a leader in shaping public policy on a range of issues important to his district, region and the state, including education, healthcare, and economic opportunity for all.

Interns will have the unique opportunity to experience policymaking, politics and government from the inside. Although unpaid, interns will obtain meaningful experience by witnessing and participating in the day-to-day functioning of a State Senate office.

Interns will report mainly to Lizzi Tran, Constituent Affairs Director, and will be responsible for assisting with a variety of tasks, ranging from constituent correspondence to legislative research to database management to communications and social media projects. In addition, interns will have the opportunity to attend events, hearings, and meetings in the State House. Interns in Senator Lewis’ office will gain the satisfaction of serving the Commonwealth and will be able to add valuable experience to their resume.

Interns must have excellent written and verbal communication skills, a high level of attention to detail, and good overall professionalism. Candidates must also be comfortable with Microsoft Office, Google applications, and major social media platforms. Preference will be given to college students and young adults, but high school students will also be considered. Applications from the Fifth Middlesex District are strongly encouraged. Summer internships generally span from May to August. Hours are negotiable, ranging from 10-14 hours per week.

Candidates with a particular interest in communications, public relations, graphic design, video production or social media should indicate so in their application.

Candidates should send a resume, brief letter of interest, and writing sample to Elizabeth.Tran@masenate.gov by Monday, April 22, 2019. References should be available upon request. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so interested parties are encouraged to apply promptly. With questions, please call (617) 722-1206.

New Report on Prescription Drug Prices Supports Senator Lewis’s Proposal for Rx Pricing Reform

BOSTON, MA – While many Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs, a new survey of retail prices of commonly-prescribed medications found patients can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in some cases by shopping around at pharmacies within their communities.

MASSPIRG, Health Care For All, Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Christine Barber and others called for prescription drug pricing reform as MASSPIRG released their report, The Real Price of Medications: A Survey of Pharmaceutical Prices, revealing a wide variation in the retail pricing of prescription drugs by pharmacies large and small, urban and rural.

The report found that on average the median or typical prices for the drugs surveyed was almost 9 times higher than the lowest price found for the same medicines. In Massachusetts, for the medication esomeprazole, a generic drug to treat gastro reflux, the typical price was 1,400% higher than the lowest price. “This is an awful deal: our medications don’t work any better when we pay more for them,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG.

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs primarily because of high prices. In Massachusetts, drug spending is the second highest category of spending growth in our health care system.

Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Christine Barber outlined their new bill, cosponsored by 56 lawmakers, An Act to Ensure Prescription Drug Cost Transparency and Affordability Act (H1133/ S706) to protect consumers and rein in runaway drug prices.

“Out-of-control pharmaceutical costs are not only a major driver of increased insurance premiums, but also a threat to the quality and affordability of healthcare for economically-vulnerable people across Massachusetts, like senior citizens and low-income families,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the Senate sponsor of the bill. “This legislation is a vital first step towards improving transparency and controlling drug costs.”

The legislation uses a number of strategies that include providing transparency around the underlying costs to produce prescription drugs; restraining abuses of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs); authorizing the Health Policy Commission to set upper payment limits for unreasonably high-priced drugs; requiring pharmacists to inform consumers if purchasing a drug at the retail price would be cheaper than using health insurance; providing tools to strengthen MassHealth’s ability to negotiate lower drug prices; and permanently authorizing and funding “academic detailing,” an evidence-based prescriber education program.

“This report from MASSPIRG shows the rising costs and lack of transparency over how prescription drugs are priced, which creates a burden on families and small businesses, as well as the state’s budget for MassHealth,” said Rep. Barber, the legislation’s lead House sponsor. “Our bill aims to make prescription drugs affordable and available for Massachusetts consumers by increasing transparency for drug pricing and making the pharmaceutical industry accountable, as we all work to control health care costs.”

“The concept of shared responsibility has been fundamentally important to the health care success story in Massachusetts. Hospitals, insurers, businesses, providers, and consumers have all made meaningful sacrifices to ensure the people of the Commonwealth have the coverage they need and that we work to bring down costs. Each of these entities has put some real skin in the game, but the pharmaceutical industry has not. It is time that they step up and be part of the solution,” said Amy Rosenthal, executive director of Health Care For All.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund surveyed more than 250 pharmacies in 11 states, including Massachusetts, for cash prices on 12 common drugs. Researchers found that consumers face a dizzying array of price differences:

  • Patients could save from $102 – $5,400 a year between minimum and median prices of the selected medications by shopping around.
  • Prescription drug price variation appeared disconnected from where the medicines were sold in urban and rural locations across many states; the median price for the surveyed brand and generic drugs varied an average of 892 percent from the cheapest available price.
  • Switching from brand name drugs to generic alternatives can help save money. For example, switching from the brand acid reflux medication Nexium to its generic could save a patient an estimated $756 annually.
  • Brand name drugs did not adjust to competition from generic drugs, even years after they entered the market. For instance, patients who switch from branded Lipitor to its generic could save an estimated $3,927 annually.
  • Large chain pharmacies tend to have higher prices than their small chain or independent counterparts, despite having more leverage in the marketplace. Eight of the 12 drugs in the survey had higher median prices of 8.8 percent to 840 percent at large chains compared to small or independent pharmacies.
  • In Massachusetts, the survey found that Atorvastatin (the generic of Lipitor, a blood pressure medication) had a price variation of 1100% from the typical price to the lowest. In this case, shopping around for the lowest price could save patients $1200/year.

Senator Lewis Appointed to Chair Education Committee

BOSTON, MA – Senate President Karen Spilka announced last week that Senator Jason Lewis has been appointed Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education in the Massachusetts Legislature. Senator Lewis was also appointed to a leadership position on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for crafting the annual state budget and reviewing most fiscal and policy matters.

“I’m excited to Chair the Education Committee, since the challenge of ensuring adequate and equitable funding for public schools was the issue that first motivated me to run for the state legislature,” said Senator Lewis. “While we should celebrate the Commonwealth’s national leadership in student performance and educational excellence, we must also redouble our efforts to address unacceptable achievement and opportunity gaps that plague our low-income students, students of color, and English language learners. It is both a moral and economic imperative that we address these fundamental inequities.”

Several years ago, Senator Lewis filed legislation that created the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). This bipartisan commission spent a year studying school finance issues and received input from education stakeholders across Massachusetts. The FBRC’s 2015 report confirmed the gaps in the foundation budget and estimated that we are shortchanging our public schools by $1-2 billion annually, with the greatest harm being done to our poorest communities.

In the years since, the state Senate has twice passed legislation to implement the recommendations of the FBRC. Unfortunately, at the end of the previous legislative session in 2018, the House and Senate were unable to reach final agreement on the details of the necessary changes to the foundation budget and Chapter 70 formula. Leaders from Beacon Hill and beyond have all indicated that fixing the formula is a top priority this year, and as Senate Chair of the Education Committee, Senator Lewis will play a key role in deliberation and negotiations on any education funding legislation.

Senator Lewis was also appointed Vice Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, where he served last legislative session as committee chairman, accomplishing major policy achievements like the passage of a $15 per hour minimum wage and the adoption of paid family and medical leave statewide. He plans to continue his work to foster economic justice and greater opportunity for working families across the Commonwealth.

Senator Lewis was appointed to serve on the Community Development and Small Businesses Committee, where he intends to use his role to continue to advocate for downtown revitalization in the communities of the Fifth Middlesex District and supporting small businesses throughout Massachusetts. Additionally, he will serve as a member of the Marijuana Policy Committee, as the Legislature continues to guide the safe implementation of legal adult-use cannabis in the state.

Column: Now is the Time to Finally Fix the School Funding Formula in Massachusetts

John Adams said, “Laws for liberal education of youth… are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” In drafting the Massachusetts state constitution (the oldest written constitution still in use anywhere in the world), Adams recognized that education is indispensable to the success and prosperity of a society, which is why he enshrined a right to education in this foundational document.

The landmark Education Reform Act of 1993 put in place a funding formula, known as Chapter 70, that was designed to ensure that every school district in Massachusetts would be fairly and adequately funded and every student would have access to a quality education. First, a “foundation budget” is calculated for each school district to determine the resources needed to educate the students in that district. Then, the “local contribution,” the amount that each municipality must contribute from its own revenues, is calculated based upon local income levels and property values. Finally, the state government allocates Chapter 70 aid annually to fill the gap between the foundation budget and the required local contribution. Additionally, if it so chooses, each community can put more of its local resources toward education if it wants to spend an amount greater than the foundation budget.

This formula worked well through the 1990s, with progress made in reducing inequities in school funding and closing student achievement gaps. However, we have been backsliding since 2000 because the foundation budget has become outdated and no longer accurately reflects the true costs to educate our young people in the 21st Century. This is due to a variety of factors, including rapidly rising healthcare costs, greater special education needs, underestimating the challenges faced by students from high poverty neighborhoods and non-native English language speakers, and more.

When I was a State Representative, I filed legislation that created the Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC). This bipartisan commission spent a year studying school finance issues and received input from education stakeholders across Massachusetts. The FBRC’s 2015 report confirmed the gaps in the foundation budget and estimated that we are shortchanging our public schools by $1-2 billion annually, with the greatest harm being done to our poorest communities.

In the years since, the state Senate has twice passed legislation to implement the recommendations of the FBRC. Unfortunately, at the end of the previous legislative session in 2018, the House and Senate were unable to reach final agreement on the details of the necessary changes to the foundation budget and Chapter 70 formula. With the start of the new legislative session last month, I’m pleased that the House, Senate and Governor Baker have all indicated that fixing the formula is a top priority this year.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz has re-filed legislation known as the Education PROMISE Act, and I’m proud to co-sponsor and help champion the passage of this bill. It would fully implement all the recommendations of the FBRC, which would lead to major improvements in the adequacy and equity of school funding in the Commonwealth. In addition to passing the Education PROMISE Act, we will also need to raise additional funding to enable the state to fully meet its obligations. This is why I’m committed to leading the effort to pass the Fair Share Amendment or millionaire’s tax in Massachusetts (more on this initiative in a future column).

Our students, schools, and communities can’t wait any longer for us to fix the school funding formula. We must get it done this year.

Senator Lewis Shares 2019-2020 Legislative Agenda

BOSTON, MA – Last month, Senator Jason Lewis filed dozens of bills for the 2019-2020 legislative session.

“I’m excited to champion a bold legislative agenda for the 2019-2020 legislative session,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I filed 98 bills that would advance equality, opportunity, justice, and sustainability for our communities and the entire Commonwealth. I’m also pleased to co-sponsor several hundred bills filed by my Senate and House colleagues.”

The bills Senator Lewis filed address many policy areas and issues, including shared prosperity, education and childcare, healthcare and wellness, a sustainable future, and social justice. To read more about individual bills, please follow the links below.

Link: Shared Prosperity  |  Link: Education & Childcare

Senator Lewis to Lead Working Group on Federal Government Shutdown

BOSTON — Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) joined with Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) on Thursday to announce a seven-member, bipartisan working group to examine the challenges facing the Commonwealth in light of the federal government shutdown, as well as to develop creative ways to help those Massachusetts families impacted.

“This shutdown has gone on far longer than expected, and, as a result, Massachusetts families and our economy could start to encounter serious challenges,” said Senate President Spilka. “Creating this bipartisan working group will allow us to effectively strategize ways to protect and care for individuals and families affected by the government shutdown, while also preparing for the long-term implications for our economy.”

“The federal shutdown is already having serious consequences for public employees struggling to pay their bills without paychecks, it also holds a looming possibility of far reaching impacts for our state and our economy,” said Minority Leader Tarr. “While it will hopefully end soon, we shouldn’t wait to consider the actions our state government may need to take to confront and prevent harm to the people of the Commonwealth in the face of this unprecedented situation.  This bipartisan work group will do just that.”

“I don’t think anybody expected that the federal government could be shut down for this long or that we could be facing such serious consequences for so many families and small businesses, not to mention impacts on public health and safety,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “We all hope that this shutdown will end very soon but in the meantime we must assess the harmful impacts on Massachusetts and what steps our state government can take immediately to help mitigate these impacts.”

Working group members will examine ways to help struggling families and individuals find relief and meet their basic needs, including groceries, housing and childcare. It will also evaluate proposals designed to extend unemployment insurance (UI), as well as attempt to assess coming challenges to the Commonwealth if the shutdown continues.

The working group, which will be chaired by Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), consists of Senator Michael D. Brady (D-Brockton), Joanne M. Comerford (D-Northampton), Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Donald F. Humason Jr. (R-Westfield), Senator Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Somerville), and Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury).

Nearly 8,000 federal workers in Massachusetts have been out of work since the government shutdown began on December 22, 2018. The shutdown is the longest in U.S. history.