Senator Lewis Files Legislation to Revive the Fair Share Amendment

BOSTON — On Friday, State Senator Jason Lewis (5th Middlesex District) and State Representative James O’Day (14th Worcester District) filed legislation in the State Senate and State House of Representatives to revive the “Fair Share Amendment,” a proposed Massachusetts constitutional amendment that could generate as much as $2 billion in new revenue to support the state’s education and transportation systems.

The Fair Share Amendment would add a surtax of four percentage points on annual taxable income that is above $1 million. The new revenue generated by the tax would be invested in public schools, more affordable public colleges and universities, and the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. To ensure that the tax continues to apply only to the highest-income taxpayers, the $1 million threshold would be adjusted each year to reflect cost-of-living increases.

Right now, the highest-income households in Massachusetts – those in the top 1 percent – pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than does any other income group. Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of income inequality of any state in the nation. The best way to help working families and build a stronger economy for all is to make sure that we have quality public schools for all children, affordable public higher education, and a world-class transportation system.

In 2015, Raise Up Massachusetts 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, meeting jointly in a Constitutional Convention, voted overwhelmingly to advance the citizen’s initiative proposal and place it on the 2018 ballot.

The Fair Share Amendment was supported by a large majority of Massachusetts voters in repeated public polling, but was challenged by a lawsuit and then removed from the ballot by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. However, the basis for that disqualification was narrow, and does not apply to a legislative version of the amendment.

“The $2 billion in new revenue that this proposal would raise would go a long way in helping to fix crumbling roads and bridges, improving service on the MBTA and other public transportation, increasing funding for public schools, expanding access to quality early childhood education, and making higher education more affordable for students and families” said Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s sponsor in the State Senate. “It’s also the best way to raise revenue that would make our tax system fairer and more progressive, rather than increasing taxes on middle class families who cannot afford to pay more.”

“The Fair Share Amendment would be critical to our Commonwealth’s investment in infrastructure, transportation and education – all of which are key to social mobility in the State of Massachusetts,” said Representative James O’Day. “The highest-income households in Massachusetts – those in the top 1 percent – pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes compared to other income groups. A tax system like this would alleviate the burden on middle-class families who are struggling to pay more.”

O’Day and Lewis both cited their strong desire to return the decision on the amendment to voters—an opportunity taken away by the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2018 decision—so that the citizens of Massachusetts can decide if the Fair Share Amendment is the best approach for raising necessary revenues, making the tax system fairer, and supporting transportation and education investments across the Commonwealth.

Gender Equity Bill Signed, Ensuring Fair Coverage in Disability Insurance

BOSTON — A bill filed by State Representative Ruth Balser and State Senator Jason Lewis to prevent gender discrimination in disability insurance was signed into law Thursday by Governor Charlie Baker.

In the state-regulated individual insurance market, women pay more than men for the same disability insurance benefits. Filings with the Division of Insurance show that women in Massachusetts pay more for the same disability insurance benefits than men in the same occupation class. This is true across the board, regardless of the insurance company, the age of the purchaser, the occupation class, the duration of benefits, whether long-term or short-term disability insurance. In every case, women pay more. On average, women pay 23.5% more than men. However, sometimes it is even more than that. Under some policies, women pay 61% more than men.

The bill prohibits insurers from charging higher disability insurance premiums based solely on gender, race, religion, or national origin. Currently, state-regulated disability insurance is classified by sex, and filings at the Division of Insurance show different premiums for men and women with the same job classification. For example, male nurses pay less than female nurses for the same disability policy. The new law will address this disparity.

“Women’s rights groups have been working to eliminate gender discrimination in insurance since the 1970s when Massachusetts adopted the Equal Rights amendment to the state constitution.  Slowly and incrementally, Massachusetts has eliminated gender disparities in most insurance products including automobile, homeowners, health, and annuities,” said Representative Ruth Balser, the lead House sponsor of the bill. “Today we have eliminated the unfair practice of charging women more than men for the same disability protection.  Many thanks to the large coalition of groups led by the Mass Commission on the Status of Women, the legislature, and the Governor for insisting that Massachusetts continues to lead when it comes to ensuring equality for all.”

“On the long march to gender equality, the passage of this bill is another step forward,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s lead sponsor in the state Senate. “Thank you to Rep. Balser and the advocates who worked tirelessly for many years to pass this legislation; it will improve fairness and lower insurance premiums for tens of thousands of women in Massachusetts.”

Nina Kimball, the Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said: “The Commission on the Status of Women commends Governor Baker for signing this bill that will finally bring equality to women purchasing disability insurance, ensuring an end to gender discriminatory pricing in the Commonwealth — which for years have prevented many women from being able to afford disability insurance that could protect them and their families when a medical crisis arises.

“MA has much to be proud of in the passage of the Equitable Disability Insurance Bill,” Kimball continued. “We are only the second state in the nation to eliminate gender discrimination in disability insurance. This is no small feat. And no small change for women of the Commonwealth. Now instead of having to make the horrifying decision to risk economic stability because insurance costs are out of reach, women will be able to protect themselves and their families. Women will be able to care for themselves and ensure economic security for their families at the most vulnerable time of illness and injury.”

Please fill out our brief constituent feedback survey

BOSTON — With a new legislative session beginning in January, State Senator Jason Lewis is preparing his policy agenda and priorities, and is seeking feedback from constituents on the issues that are most important to them and their families.

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

To gather further input from his constituents, Senator Lewis will be holding a “virtual town hall” in January. During a Facebook live-stream on January 8 at 6:00 pm, he will discuss the survey results and take questions and feedback from the online audience.

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

Senator Lewis Submits Testimony on National Grid Bill

A letter from Senator Jason Lewis to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy:

December 4, 2018

The Honorable Michael J. Barrett
Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy

The Honorable Thomas A. Golden
House Chair, Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy

Dear Chair Barrett and Chair Golden:

Please accept this correspondence as my testimony in support of House Bill 4960, An Act relative to the employment of certain workers by National Grid.

As we in the Legislature grapple with the multiple explosions in Merrimack Valley on September 13th of this year caused by over-pressurized gas mains, we need to think long and hard about how the Commonwealth’s gas infrastructure is operated. While natural gas is a tool by which so many heat their homes, cook food, and get hot water, we were reminded on September 13th of how dangerous it can be when not handled with care.

When the United Steel Workers were locked out on June 24th by National Grid, good workers with vast amounts of experience were put on the sideline. USW offered to extend their contract while bargaining continues but National Grid refused. Instead, National Grid decided to sideline those workers and take away their wages and benefits in an effort to gain leverage in negotiations. It is unfortunate that National Grid is utilizing such a tactic. It is a bad faith negotiation tactic and it endangers the citizens of my district and the Commonwealth.

This legislation would deny public funds, including chapter 90 money, to National Grid for use on gas infrastructure work and would prevent National Grid from seeking any increases in rates. Most importantly, this legislation would ensure that the locked out workers receive health insurance so that they receive needed care that we all should expect. If passed into law, the provisions of this bill would last until the end of the lockout, which I hope will come soon.

I respectfully request the Committee to vote favorably on this legislation as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to contact my office should you require any further information.

Sincerely,

Jason M. Lewis

Senator Lewis Accepting Applications for 2019 Winter/Spring State House Internships

Senator Jason Lewis is looking for civic-minded individuals interested in a winter-spring 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 has been a leader in shaping public policy on a range of issues important to his district, region and the state, including healthcare, education, 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. Winter/Spring internships generally span from late January to early April. 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, January 4, 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.

Senator Lewis to Host Forum on Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault

Continuing his “Community Conversations” discussion series, Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to host an upcoming conversation on education, prevention and survivor support strategies in the challenging areas of teen dating violence and sexual assault. “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: Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault — will take place on Wednesday, November 14, at 6:00pm. The event will occur at Memorial Hall, 590 Main St, Melrose, and is free and open to the public. Attendees will hear from Melrose Alliance Against Violence Executive Director Rebecca Mooney, anti-violence advocate Dr. Malcolm Astley, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention and Education Mark Bergeron-Naper, with introductory remarks from Senator Lewis, State Representative Paul Brodeur, and Melrose Mayor Gail Infurna. Senator Lewis is the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health.

This forum will offer the chance to hear directly from advocates and experts about the salient and challenging topics of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and sexual violence. Director Mooney will discuss the teen dating violence public awareness initiatives undertaken by the Melrose Alliance Against Violence, and Dr. Astley will share his real-world experience with teen dating violence and the important advocacy efforts he has undertaken to educate youth, especially young men, about consent and violence prevention. Director Bergeron-Naper will give insight into his work coordinating the prevention and education initiatives in the Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention and Services Division of the Massachusetts DPH Bureau of Community Health & Prevention. There will be ample opportunity for Q&A from attendees.

The forum is co-sponsored by Mayor Gail Infurna, State Representative Paul Brodeur, the Melrose Alliance Against Violence, the Stoneham Alliance Against Violence, the Wakefield Alliance Against Violence, and the 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 Supports Passage of Budget Bill Investing in Local Priorities

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Legislature passed a budget bill which invests in local community priorities, such as school security, road and bridge repairs, and municipal snow and ice removal relief, in addition to responsibly contributing to the state’s “rainy day” stabilization fund and supporting other fiscal and policy priorities. Senator Jason Lewis supported the legislation’s passage.

“The budget bill will support our towns and cities with essential funding for local road repairs and school security, delivering the support that our communities need from the state” said Senator Jason Lewis. “At the same time, the bill invests substantially in our rainy day fund to make sure that our state is prepared to meet any future economic downturn without interruptions to crucial state services and programs.”

The supplemental budget includes $40 million in Chapter 90 funding for roads and bridges, and $32 million for snow and ice removal.

The budget bill directs $7.5 million to the Executive Office of Education to establish an infrastructure grant program to assist public schools in enhancing safety and security measures by upgrading or retrofitting school buildings. The program would pay for, among other things, classroom door locks, security cameras or active shooter detection systems. The grant funding will also assist school districts in contracting with licensed community-based mental and behavioral health service providers for services in public schools.

The supplemental budget also deposits $240 million into the state “rainy day” stabilization fund, pushing that account’s balance past $2 billion and leaving the Commonwealth better prepared for any future economic downturn or major revenue loss.

The supplemental budget bill is on Governor Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.

Column: Celebrating the Tri-Community Greenway

You may have noticed a brand new recreational trail coming to life over the past year. The new 6.6 mile Tri-Community Greenway starts at Ginn Field in Winchester and ends at Recreation Park in Stoneham. The paths are paved, the crosswalks are painted, and the markers are set. Just a few more weeks of work remain before the trail is fully complete and officially open!
There were many times in this project’s 30 year history when reaching this milestone seemed nearly impossible. As each obstacle was overcome another one soon presented itself. It is a testament to the dedication, determination, and hard work of the “true believers” through the years that the vision of the Tri-Community Greenway has finally been realized.

I hope that, one day, a book will be written about the history of this project with its many twists and turns. I will only share a brief summary here. When my involvement with the project began in 2008, after I was first elected state representative, the plans for the Tri-Community Greenway had already been underway since the early 1980s. At that time, the Town of Stoneham acquired a long unused section of the former Boston and Maine railroad from the MBTA, with the understanding that this land would be devoted to public recreational use. Soon after, Stoneham resident Cameron Bain began his quest to convert this property into a multi-use recreational path that could be enjoyed by all members of the community. In the mid 1990s, Winchester resident Jill Behrens wrote her graduate thesis on the restoration of a Winchester greenway along the banks of the Aberjona River. In 1999, Winchester, Stoneham, and Woburn came together and signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate the design and construction of the aptly named Tri-Community Greenway and Bikeway. The project design took more than a decade as numerous challenges were faced and gradually overcome. Finally, in late 2016 the design was completed and MassDOT put the project out to bid. Construction began in the spring of 2017 and is expected to be finished very soon. The total design and construction costs of more than $6 million were funded by state and federal transportation dollars.

I believe that this investment of time and money will prove to be very worthwhile. The Tri-Community Greenway will offer significant and lasting benefits for the residents of our communities, and will be an invaluable resource for the entire region. Connecting transportation hubs, schools, businesses, municipal buildings, parks, playgrounds, and neighborhoods, this path will offer wonderful new recreational opportunities for families, provide an environmentally friendly means of transportation, create new opportunities for exercise and wellness, and promote local economic development.

The Tri-Community Greenway has always been a collaborative effort, and many people contributed their time and talent along the way. We owe a great debt of gratitude to everyone who made this project possible, particularly Cameron Bain and Winchester Town Engineer Beth Rudolph. Thank you!

I hope to see you out soon walking, jogging, cycling, roller blading, skate boarding, pushing a stroller, or just relaxing on a bench as you enjoy the new Tri-Community Greenway.

State Legislature Invests in Municipal Police Training in Massachusetts

BOSTON – The state legislature passed An Act relative to the municipal police training fund and the bill was recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker. This legislation creates a new, dedicated funding stream to ensure that municipal police officers get all the specialized training they need without burdening already stretched local budgets.

The bill received strong bipartisan support from our area delegation, including Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Paul Brodeur, Mike Day, Paul Donato, Brad Jones, Steve Ultrino, and Donald Wong.

“Our municipal police departments have a very difficult job to do and officers must respond to many challenging situations every day, including individuals who may be in the midst of a mental health or substance use crisis,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “It is critical that we provide our police officers with the best possible training and this legislation will ensure that the necessary resources are available to do so.”

The new law creates a $2 car rental surcharge that will be deposited in a dedicated Municipal Police Training Fund. The surcharge is expected to generate approximately $8 million annually. Certain car rentals will be exempt from the surcharge, including rentals lasting less than 12 hours and ride-sharing services offered through companies like Uber and Lyft.

This new funding stream will be used to support basic training for new police recruits, as well as mandatory in-service training and other specialized training for police officers across the Commonwealth. It will reduce the fiscal burden that police training currently places on municipalities, and enable the expansion of specialized training for police officers.

“More than ever before, our police officers need specialized training and professional development to make sure that they are ready to meet the challenges of their daily work,” said Wakefield Chief of Police Richard Smith. “It’s great to see the Commonwealth creating a dedicated revenue stream for police training so that our officers can get the training they need, even when local budgets are limited.”

Senator Lewis Applauds Passage of the BRAVE Act, Improving Benefits & Services for Veterans, Active Military Members & Families

BOSTON — Senator Jason Lewis is pleased to announce the passage of the “BRAVE Act,” a new law that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military and their families.

Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts Legislature has consistently prioritized passage of legislation that supports our veterans.

“This comprehensive veteran’s legislation will assist veterans and their families with employment protections, housing assistance, burial expenses, court programs, and medical care, while also expanding honors and recognition for veterans and service members,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip.  “I’m proud that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in supporting and caring for our veterans.”

The bill grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes.

To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years.  It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.

The BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by the Commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to receive to adequately provide for a dignified funeral. It also exempts any veterans who receive annuities for service to their country from income calculations when applying for state programs or services.

The bill also:

  • Addresses emergency medical transportation reimbursements;
  • Revises the Veteran Court Diversion program;
  • Updates the veteran bonus program at the State Treasurer’s Office;
  • Designates the 5th day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day
  • Directs cities and towns to designate veteran specific parking spaces and city and town halls;
  • Provides veterans time off, with or without pay, at the discretion of the employer, for Memorial and Veterans Day so they can take part in ceremonies in their community;
  • Establishes several studies and analysis regarding higher education, incarcerated veterans, creditable service and National Guard recognition.

The BRAVE Act was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on August 9, 2018.