Massachusetts Legislature Votes to Enact the Student Opportunity Act

BOSTON – Yesterday, both chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature unanimously voted to enact the Student Opportunity Act. This legislation, providing an unprecedented $1.5 billion new investment in Massachusetts K-12 public education system, ensures that all public schools have adequate resources to provide high-quality education to students across the state, regardless of zip code or income level.

The Student Opportunity Act provides significant support to school districts that serve English learners and high concentrations of low-income students. At the same time, all school districts across the Commonwealth will benefit from updates to the existing funding formula, along with increased state investments in vital education aid programs such as special education transportation, school construction and renovation, and the 21st Century Education Trust Fund.

“Access to a high-quality public education is a fundamental right for every child, and that’s why the Student Opportunity Act will make an unprecedented $1.5 billion investment in our public schools, ensuring that school districts across the Commonwealth have adequate and equitable resources to provide all students, especially those facing adversity, with a high-quality public education,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and a lead architect of the legislation. “I am confident that the Student Opportunity Act will effectively address opportunity and achievement gaps and make a meaningful difference to generations of Massachusetts students.”

The Student Opportunity Act fully implements the recommendations of the 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) in order to support the “educational programs and services necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s educational goals” as stated in the Commission’s mission. The bill provides an estimated $1.4 billion in new Chapter 70 aid over and above inflation when fully implemented over the next seven years. The bill modernizes the K-12 education funding and policy landscape in four areas:

  • Estimates school districts’ employee and retiree health care costs using up to date health insurance trend data collected by the state’s Group Insurance Commission (GIC).
  • Increases special education enrollment and cost assumptions to more accurately reflect district enrollment.
  • Increases funding for English learners (EL) and differentiates funding by grade level to reflect the greater resources required to educate our older EL students.
  • Addresses the needs of districts educating high concentrations of low-income students by:
    • Providing additional funding based on the share of low-income students in each district; districts educating the largest percentage of low-income students will receive an additional increment equal to 100 percent of the base foundation; and
    • Returning the definition of low-income to 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, as opposed to the 133 percent level used in recent years.

In addition to implementing the FBRC’s recommended formula changes, the Student Opportunity Act provides an additional $100 million in state financial support in several categories to help public schools and communities deliver a high-quality education to every student. Those fiscal supports include:

  • Increasing foundation rates for guidance and psychological services in recognition of the growing need for expanded social-emotional support and mental health services;
  • Committing to fully funding charter school tuition reimbursement, which provides transitional aid to help districts when students leave to attend charter schools, within a three-year timetable;
  • Expanding the special education circuit breaker program, which reimburses districts for extraordinary special education costs, to include transportation as well as instructional cost, to be implemented over the next four years; and
  • Raising the annual cap on Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) spending for construction and renovation by $200 million (from $600 million to $800 million), enabling more school building projects across the state to be accepted into the MSBA funding pipeline, which reimburses towns and cities for a portion of school building costs.

In addition to new funding and other supports, the Student Opportunity Act establishes the 21st Century Education Trust Fund to provide districts and schools access to flexible funding to pursue creative approaches to student learning and district improvement.

“The Student Opportunity Act is a true game-changer for low-income students and their communities, and we’re delighted to see it approach the finish line. We applaud Senate President Spilka, Speaker DeLeo, Senator Lewis, Representative Peisch, and the other members of the conference committee for their leadership in developing this bill. And we thank the entire Education Committee for delivering the major new school funding our students need, when some were pressuring them to think small,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “The Student Opportunity Act will deliver increased state funding to every district, but the greatest increases, rightfully, will go to low-income districts whose students have the greatest needs. That means that students of all backgrounds will finally be able to enjoy the benefits – everything from smaller classes and additional counselors, to up-to-date classroom supplies and more art, music, and enrichment – that their peers in wealthier districts take for granted.”

In order to track and reproduce successful school and district-level programs and policies, the legislation calls on school districts to develop and make publicly available plans for closing opportunity gaps. These plans will include specific goals and metrics to track success. The bill includes language, to ensure that plans consider input from school committees and other stakeholders. In addition, the Secretary of Education will collect and publish data on student preparedness in each district for post-graduate success in college and the workforce.

“MBAE applauds Representative Peisch, Senator Lewis and House and Senate leadership for coming together to produce a compromise bill that takes direct aim at the urgent challenge of racial and socio-economic achievement gaps,” said Ed Lambert, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE). “This legislation prioritizes increased funding for students and communities that need it the most, includes essential guardrails to ensure the money is thoughtfully and strategically deployed, and increases state and district focus on preparing students for college and workforce opportunities.”

Furthermore, the Student Opportunity Act establishes a Data Advisory Commission to help improve the use of data at the state, district, and school levels to inform strategies that strengthen teaching, learning and resource allocation. The bill increases the scope of data collected and moves towards establishing targets for college and career success.

“We applaud the hard work of Education Committee Chairs Rep. Alice Peisch and Sen. Jason Lewis, and thank all of our elected leaders for their willingness to listen to superintendents, who oversee schools across the Commonwealth” said Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “Having been a partner in these conversations since the formation of the Foundation Budget Review Commission, we recognize that providing the resources to keep Massachusetts competitive and to re-establish equity across all zip codes is not an easy task. Expanding opportunities for all children is at the heart of district leadership, and we believe that the Student Opportunity Act makes the necessary reforms to ensure that our schools and our students get the resources they need to succeed.”

To support ongoing efforts to address education-funding challenges, the legislation also includes the following provisions:

  • Establishes a Rural Schools Commission to investigate the unique challenges facing rural and regional school districts with low and declining enrollment and make recommendations for further updates to help impacted districts and communities;
  • Directs the Department of Revenue (DOR) and DESE to analyze the method of determining required local contributions in the Chapter 70 school funding formula for the purpose of improving equity, predictability and accuracy; and
  • Requires the Massachusetts School Building Authority to undertake a review of the current program, now in its fifteenth year, to ensure that capital reimbursements meet district needs.

The bill requires the Foundation Budget Review Commission to convene at least every ten years to review the way foundation budgets are calculated and ensure the school funding formula continues to reflect the needs of school districts across the Commonwealth.

The bill now goes to the governor for his consideration.

Senator Lewis Joins Unanimous Vote to Advance Legislation Reducing Prescription Drug Costs

BOSTON – On Thursday, Senator Jason Lewis joined a unanimous vote in the Massachusetts Senate to pass An Act relative to Pharmaceutical Access, Costs and Transparency (PACT Act), comprehensive pharmaceutical cost control legislation aimed at addressing the high and rapidly increasing costs of prescription drugs. By connecting the need for greater drug price transparency with policies to improve oversight over the pharmaceutical industry, the legislation will put Massachusetts at the forefront of national efforts to tackle increasing drug costs. It will reduce drug costs to patients and lower health care costs overall.

“Access to quality, affordable health care should be a human right, and it is unconscionable that so many Massachusetts residents today are struggling to afford their prescription medications,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This legislation will help rein in out-of-control prescription drug costs, and will improve health care and patient outcomes in the Commonwealth.”

The PACT Act draws heavily from legislation filed by Senator Lewis along with State Representative Christine Barber in partnership with Health Care For All, a non-profit patient advocacy group.

The legislation offers immediate price relief for insulin—a life sustaining drug for the one in 10 Massachusetts residents living with diabetes who must take it daily or else face substantial health risks and complications. Consumers have recently been experiencing sharp insulin price increases, resulting in out-of-pocket costs that can easily reach $1,000 or more per year for someone who is in a high-deductible plan or underinsured. This financial burden often forces a person to engage in the dangerous practice of severely limiting or forgoing altogether the use of insulin. To address this problem, the PACT Act limits out-of-pocket spending by eliminating deductibles and coinsurance for insulin and capping co-pays at $25 per month.

High drug prices act as barriers to patients, who often cannot access the medications they need due to prohibitive costs. The PACT Act contains enhanced accountability tools to address these barriers. Currently, Massachusetts cannot effectively identify high-cost drugs that substantially impact patient access, resulting in fiscal challenges and public health risks for consumers who cannot afford the rapidly rising costs of prescription drugs. This legislation directs the Health Policy Commission (HPC), in consultation with stakeholders, to establish a process for identifying drug price thresholds that pose a public health risk. It allows the HPC to determine a proposed value for those drugs and engage with pharmaceutical manufacturers in an Access Improvement Plan process to increase patient access to necessary medications.

The bill seeks to bring oversight to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), who serve as brokers or “middle-men” in the drug transaction process and play a major role in how drugs are tiered and priced on insurance plans. PBMs are not currently subjected to rigorous oversight by the state, making it unclear if PBMs act in the best interest of the consumer or health plans when they negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers on drug prices. The PACT Act authorizes the Division of Insurance to license and regulate PBMs and establish sanctions for PBMs that fail to meet certain standards.

Under current law, pharmacists are not required to disclose to consumers when a lower price is available for a prescription drug. As a result, consumers sometimes pay more using their insurance plan than they would if they paid the pharmacy’s retail price for a prescription. The PACT Act addresses this by requiring pharmacists to notify patients if the retail cost of a medication is less than their cost-sharing amount, such as the co-pay, deductible or other amount required through an insurance plan, thereby increasing transparency and immediately impacting consumers by allowing them to access medications at a lower price.

The PACT Act requires pharmaceutical companies to notify the state in advance of new drugs coming to market, and of significant price increases for existing drugs. With advanced notification, the state’s MassHealth program can better prepare for potential cost increases by exploring ways to mitigate the cost or negotiating improved prices. Senators also adopted a measure proposed by Senator Lewis which would provide advanced notice when generic drug manufacturers plan to substantially increase prices.

This bill also empowers the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) to collect a range of drug cost information from pharmaceutical manufacturers and PBMs and include its findings as part of its annual health care cost report. The report does not currently include comprehensive data on drug costs. Collecting this data will allow policymakers and consumers to better understand the role of pharmaceutical companies in driving costs moving forward.

Under the PACT Act, pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and PBMs will be included in the HPC annual Health Care Cost Trends hearing process, which has been instrumental in increasing transparency and accountability for health care providers and insurers, and in helping the state to meet its annual health care cost growth benchmark. By participating in this process, the pharmaceutical industry will testify publicly on the factors that influence drug costs and provide supporting documents. The HPC will use this information to analyze how pharmaceutical costs impact the state’s health care market.

This bill requires the HPC to create an academic detailing program to educate prescribers and other medical professionals on best practices to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs through better prescribing practices. Academic detailing programs have a long history of success in using ongoing prescriber education to ensure that treatment plans for costly conditions align with the most up-to-date impartial, evidence-based research.

The Senate has been a leader in putting forth policies to address unaffordable drug costs. The HEALTH Act, passed by the Senate in 2017, proposed policies to incorporate pharmaceutical costs into the state’s annual health care cost oversight process and to ensure that consumers are offered the lowest available prices at the pharmacy. The Senate also championed the inclusion of provisions in the FY2020 budget to allow MassHealth to directly negotiate supplemental drug rebates to save the state millions of dollars each year.

The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Lewis Accepting Applications for 2020 Winter/Spring State House Internships

Senator Jason Lewis is looking for civic-minded individuals interested in a spring-semester 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. Applications from residents of the Fifth Middlesex District are strongly encouraged. Winter/spring internships generally coincide with the academic calendars of area colleges and universities. 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 Sunday, January 5, 2020. 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.

Senator Lewis Accepting Applications for Fall 2019 State House Internships

Senator Jason Lewis is looking for civic-minded individuals interested in a fall semester 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. Applications from residents of the Fifth Middlesex District are strongly encouraged. Fall internships generally coincide with the academic calendars of area colleges and universities. 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 Friday, September 6, 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.

State Budget Includes Sen. Lewis Provision to Address Barriers for Foreign-Trained Medical Professionals & Improve Access to Health Care

BOSTON – A new commission created in the FY2020 state budget that Governor Baker signed this week will help address our Commonwealth’s critical shortages of medical providers by identifying best practices to license and deploy foreign-trained health professionals.

Massachusetts has some of the best medical facilities in the world, but it also fails to meet many people’s basic needs. Over 7% of state residents lack adequate access to primary care, dental care, or mental health services, including more than 500,000 low-income people in Greater Boston, Western, Central and Southeastern Massachusetts.

Yet we also have a lot of untapped talent: more than 8,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, mental health providers and other medical professionals who were educated abroad – over 20% of whom are jobless or underemployed because they’ve had difficulties getting licensed in the U.S.

A provision in the FY2020 budget directly addresses this issue by establishing a 23-member commission that will bring together all the key stakeholders – state agencies, hospital and health center leaders, professional organizations, educators, and affected clinicians – to tackle barriers to licensure, with the express goal of deploying these providers in underserved, high-need areas.

“The shortage of health care workers across Massachusetts and the nation must be addressed urgently,” said Senator Jason Lewis, on whose bill the budget provision was based. “By addressing obstacles facing foreign-trained medical professionals in their efforts to obtain their full medical licenses here in the Commonwealth, we can tackle those work force challenges.

“Marrying this pool of unused talent with a population in need of better access to services would help us to better meet our health care needs and expand opportunity at the same time,” he added. “I’m confident that this policy will expand access in underserved communities, improve health care outcomes, and empower all qualified medical professionals to participate actively in the work force.”

For affected clinicians, the new commission offers hope after years of struggle.

“I am so excited as a Haitian who has trained as a doctor in Mexico and France that I would be able to contribute my clinical skills to serve people who cross many intersections, addressing their cultures and backgrounds, especially in mental health,” said Dr. Judith Thermidor. “This important step will allow foreign-trained physicians to work together with American doctors to address an urgent need: eliminating inequities in the quality and availability of health care for ethnic, racial and economic minorities by increasing the cultural competence of Massachusetts’ health care work force.”

“I am very happy and full of good expectations for the steps Massachusetts is taking to help doctors like me to become part of the health care system,” said Dr. Jorge Carias, from El Salvador. “I came here three years ago, and I have longed every day for an opportunity to put my skills to work for my community.”

The new commission is charged with studying and making recommendations on (i) strategies to integrate foreign-trained medical professionals into rural and underserved areas; (ii) state and federal licensing regulations that may pose unnecessary barriers; (iii) potential changes to Massachusetts licensing requirements; (iv) opportunities to advocate for corresponding changes to national licensing requirements; and (v) any other relevant matters.

The commission is to submit a report to the Legislature by July 1, 2021, including proposed bills to carry out its recommendations.

Senate Passes Sen. Lewis Bill to Eliminate Ghost Networks

BOSTON – On Thursday, the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously voted to support An Act to increase consumer transparency about insurance provider networks, legislation filed by Senator Jason Lewis to eliminate “ghost networks” among Massachusetts health insurers and increase access to mental health care for patients who need it.

Out-of-date and inaccurate health insurance provider directories appear to have a large number of in-network providers. In reality, the number is often much smaller, as providers may have moved, closed their practices, no longer accept new patients, or no longer participate in particular health insurance plans. These “ghost networks” are especially challenging for people seeking care for behavioral health conditions: in 2018, the Division of Insurance reported provider directories for behavioral health services listed only 29% to 64% completely accurate information.

“Many families and individuals seeking health care, particularly mental health care, are unable to find a provider that meets their needs because of outdated and unclear provider directories,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead sponsor of the legislation. “Accurate provider directories are critical to improving access to timely and appropriate care to reduce disparities, to improve health outcomes, and to decrease unnecessary utilization of emergency room and inpatient care. I’m very pleased that the Senate took this important step forward.”

For many families and individuals, provider directories are the “front door” to accessing services for behavioral health conditions. Struggling through outdated information and refusals by multiple unavailable providers is exhausting and frightening, leaving patients at risk for clinical deterioration and harm, often ending up with a visit to the emergency room, rather than getting appropriate care when it was needed.

The legislation passed in the Senate passed ensures that consumers have the best information available to meet their health needs. An Act to increase consumer transparency about insurance provider networks would require insurers’ provider directories include the most up-to-date list of participating doctors and specialists and their services. The bill also creates a task force to study and recommend further improvements to provider directories, particularly information about behavioral health providers and the specific services they offer. This legislation was the result of months of collaboration between the Senate, insurers, providers and other stakeholders.

The legislation now awaits action in the House of Representatives before it can be considered by the Governor to become law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislature Advances Fair Share Bill Led by Senator Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Lewis Applauds Senate Passage of Legislation to Prevent Distracted Driving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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