With Lewis Support, Massachusetts Senate Passes Automatic Voter Registration

BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed An Act automatically registering eligible voters and enhancing safeguards against fraud. The legislation creates a framework in which eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote when receiving services from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, MassHealth, and other participating state agencies. The framework will be overseen and implemented by the Secretary of State.

“The passage of Automatic Voter Registration in Massachusetts will expand access to the ballot for eligible residents, invigorate civic engagement in our communities, and ultimately bolster the health of our democracy in Massachusetts by lowering barriers to the ballot and encouraging active participation,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Assistant Majority Whip. “Automatic Voter Registration eliminates unnecessary obstacles for eligible voters, and will go a long way to involve the nearly 680,000 unregistered eligible voters in the state in the democratic process.”

“It should be the state’s burden to register voters – not yours,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “Long work hours and confusion about the registration process are barriers for many citizens. Thousands of Massachusetts citizens are eligible to vote today, but aren’t registered. Registering to vote must be as simple as possible, and this legislation implements a process where any eligible citizen receiving certain state services is automatically registered. Today is a major victory for voting rights and social justice.”

The legislation also bolsters voter-data security. It updates the requirements for transmission of voter registration affidavits and requires the Secretary of State to promulgate regulations to ensure registration is done through electronic transmission, with data security protocols and integration with the online portals.

The legislation increases penalties associated with voter fraud. It orders that whoever knowingly provides false information in connection with automatic voter registration shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years or both.

Senator Jason Lewis Appointed to Health Care Reform Conference Committee

BOSTON- Senator Jason M. Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Public Health, was named as a Senate member of the six-member conference committee dealing with proposed health care reforms. Senator Lewis, along with Democratic Senator James T. Welch, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and Republican Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr, will work to reconcile the differences between two pieces of health care reform legislation: one passed by the Senate in November and one passed by the House of Representatives this June.

“I’m pleased to be appointed to serve on this conference committee and look forward to working closely with my colleagues from the House and Senate,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The quality and affordability of healthcare impacts everybody in Massachusetts, and we have the opportunity with this important legislation to improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities, and contain healthcare costs.”

Senator Lewis also expressed his hope that the final bill will take steps to both rein in healthcare spending for private and public payers as well as reduce health disparities for Massachusetts residents. He highlighted the social determinants of health and the recognition that improving population health is fundamental to containing healthcare costs, reducing health disparities, and improving quality of life.

The House of Representatives appointed House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D- Quincy), Representative Jeffery N. Roy (D- Franklin), House Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, and Representative Randy hunt (R-Sandwich) to the House side of the conference committee.

The conferees will meet to negotiate a final version of the health care financing bill to be approved by both houses of the State Legislature.

Senate Passes Jason Lewis Bill to Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction

BOSTON– Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate engrossed comprehensive legislation, sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis, to reduce youth access to tobacco and nicotine products. Tobacco use and nicotine addiction remains the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Massachusetts, responsible for more than $4 billion in annual health care costs to the Commonwealth. Youth are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction, nicotine has harmful health impacts on the developing brain, and 9 in 10 cigarette smokers begin using before age 18. The bill, An Act Protecting Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, raises the minimum legal sales age for all tobacco products to age 21; adds vaping products to the smoke free workplace law; and prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies.

“Massachusetts has long been a leader in protecting and strengthening public health,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health and the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. “This comprehensive legislation will once again put the Commonwealth at the forefront of preventing youth addiction to tobacco and nicotine products, in order to improve health, save lives, and reduce healthcare costs.”

“Raising the legal sales age for tobacco is an incredible public health achievement that will save lives, prevent addiction and ensure a healthier future for generations of Massachusetts youth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler.  “This legislation protects young adults whose minds and bodies are still developing, and is a proven strategy for nicotine addiction prevention. I am proud that the Senate has voted to approve this bill.”

“We have come too far in our fight to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine to turn back now,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that young people do not use these products. I applaud the Senate for passing this important bill and helping prevent another generation from growing up addicted to tobacco and nicotine.”

While youth smoking has declined considerably in the last two decades, youth use of other addictive tobacco products like e-cigarettes is increasing sharply. While nicotine delivery products like e-cigarettes may sometimes help some nicotine-addicted adults to stop smoking traditional cigarettes, they present a significant new threat to the health and wellbeing of young people who have not previously used tobacco products.

To directly target youth use, this legislation increases the legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This is a proven and effective strategy to reduce youth tobacco use because it removes legally purchased tobacco products from high school social networks. The town of Needham achieved a 48% reduction in youth tobacco use after becoming the first town in Massachusetts to raise the legal sales age to 21. The Institute of Medicine projects that increasing the age from 18 to 21 will reduce overall tobacco use in a population by 12% – the equivalent of 150,000 Massachusetts tobacco users.

Meanwhile, youth use of e-cigarettes has grown alarmingly, becoming a pervasive presence in our high schools. The provisions in this bill build upon the regulations promulgated in 2016 by Attorney General Maura Healey, and ensure that the places that are tobacco free will also be vape free, including schools, restaurants and workplaces.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in this country, and 95 percent of all adult tobacco users start by the age of 21. If we can keep young Massachusetts residents from buying tobacco until they turn 21, we can save thousands of lives,” said Allyson Perron, Senior Director of Government Relations at the Massachusetts chapter of the American Heart Association, “any action we can take to stop the young from taking that first deadly puff should be ardently pursued. We applaud the Massachusetts Senate for taking this important step in improving the health and wellbeing of our young residents”.

This bill also prohibits the sale of tobacco products in health care institutions, including pharmacies, a policy already in place in more than 160 of our cities and towns, and a practice already adopted by firms like CVS.

Other provisions included in the bill include new authority granted to the Department of Public Health to regulate new, emerging tobacco products; and language requiring the Center for Health Information and Analysis to study the current tobacco cessation benefits offered by commercial insurers, MassHealth, and the Group Insurance Commission.

Many cities and towns have enacted policies to reduce tobacco use and nicotine addiction that go beyond current state and federal laws and regulations, creating a patchwork of different laws across the commonwealth that can confound retailers, distributors, consumers and public health officials. This legislation will provide a uniform statewide set of rules that protect youth and simplify the interaction between our state and local laws.

The bill now returns to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where the bill has formerly been engrossed, for enactment.

Senator Lewis & Representative Brodeur Lead Successful Effort to Create Paid Family & Medical Leave Program in Massachusetts

BOSTON— Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Paul Brodeur, who serve as Co-Chairs of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, led a successful effort to create a new paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts. The legislation was signed into law on June 28 by Governor Charlie Baker.

Once the program is fully implemented, almost all workers in Massachusetts will have access to job-protected paid time off from work to take care of themselves or a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. The majority of workers in Massachusetts, particularly low wage workers, currently have no access to paid leave benefits.

“Creating a paid family and medical leave program in Massachusetts is a major victory for working families,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “I greatly appreciate the hard work and collaboration of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition and leaders of the business community to craft a program that will help hundreds of thousands of workers, level the playing field for small businesses, improve public health, and strengthen our state economy – at a cost that is affordable for workers and employers.”

“Working families in Massachusetts will no longer have to choose between losing their jobs or caring for a sick loved one,” Representative Paul Brodeur said. “While workers and their rights remain under attack in Washington DC, I’m proud that here in the Commonwealth we have been able to work with business and labor leaders to craft a paid leave program which will uplift and empower generations of residents.”

Having access to paid family and medical leave benefits will help families deal with medical crises; reduce inequality in the workplace for women and low wage workers; help small businesses compete for talent with larger businesses; reduce employee turnover; retain more women in the workforce and help them advance; promote infant and maternal health; and reduce reliance on public assistance programs.

The legislation provides up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill or injured family member, and up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave for a worker to recover from his/her own serious injury or illness. Workers must meet certain eligibility and certification requirements to ensure program integrity. While on leave, a worker will receive partial wage replacement up to a maximum weekly cap of $850 (which will be adjusted upwards over time). The bill prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take leave, and ensures that a worker is restored to his/her previous position, or to an equivalent position, with the same status, pay, and employment benefits.

The benefits will be paid from a newly established Family and Employment Security Trust Fund, which will be funded from payroll contributions, split roughly equally between employers and employees. Small businesses with fewer than 25 workers will be exempt from payroll contributions.

“Thank you to Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur for your leadership and fair-minded facilitation of our paid leave design team,” said Debra Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and the Co-Chair of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition. “Massachusetts workers will benefit from the strongest, most progressive paid family and medical leave program in the nation.”

The signing of this legislation into law is the culmination of an almost year-long process led by Senator Lewis and Representative Brodeur. In their role as Co-Chairs of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, they brought together stakeholders from Raise Up Massachusetts and leaders of the business community to work closely together to design a paid family and medical leave program that would meet the needs of workers while addressing the concerns of employers.

As a result of this successful effort, Raise Up Massachusetts announced that they would no longer pursue a ballot question to establish paid family and medical leave, removing substantial uncertainty and risk for all stakeholders.

Employer and employee contributions for paid family and medical leave will begin in July, 2019, and benefit payments will begin in January, 2021.

Passing Lewis Bill, Massachusetts State Senate Curbs Ivory and Rhino Horn Trade

BOSTON– The Massachusetts State Senate passed S. 2553, An Act relative to ivory and rhinoceros horn trafficking. The bill represents the Senate’s commitment to protecting the environment and conserving critically endangered species.

This bill aligns Massachusetts law with current federal law and seeks to curtail the sale and trafficking of ivory. It restricts the trade of most ivory and rhino horn products with exemptions for antiques that are legal under the federal Endangered Species Act; legally acquired products with a small amount (less than 200 grams) of ivory/horn; musical instruments; inheritance; and sale or donation to scientific and educational institutions.

“The Massachusetts Senate will not tolerate illegal ivory trading in the Commonwealth,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “Massachusetts residents believe in animal rights, and the violent and cruel practice of harvesting ivory runs contrary to our values. This legislation aligns the Commonwealth with existing federal laws which restrict the ivory trade and subsequently remove Massachusetts from the illicit ivory market.”

“Wildlife trafficking is a growing global crisis, and the ivory trade has more than doubled over the last decade” said Senator Jason M. Lewis, lead sponsor of the bill. “This legislation sends a clear message: the ivory market in Massachusetts cannot continue to contribute to the slaughter of African elephants, threatening the extinction of this amazing animal, or feed the profits of a brutal and illegal wildlife trade.”

A coalition of leading animal welfare organizations including the MSPCA-Angell, Zoo New England, Animal Welfare Institute, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have joined together to encourage the passage of legislation as illegal poaching has decimated the populations of these animals, threatening them with extinction.

“All five remaining rhino species are endangered and African elephants could be gone from the wild in a few decades if the alarming rates of poaching do not subside,” said Laura Hagen, Deputy Director of Advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell. “We thank the Massachusetts Senate for recognizing the role our market plays in the killing, trafficking, and demand that fuel the poaching crisis across the globe, and for taking strong steps to ensure that the Commonwealth does not help drive these iconic species to extinction.”

Poaching is not only a wildlife conservation and animal welfare issue but also directly linked to transnational criminal syndicates. Furthermore, the scale of poaching today supplies a $7-10 billion wildlife trafficking enterprise that is intertwined with terrorism and government corruption.  These groups use poaching as a substantial source of funding for their brutal activities, which also threatens U.S. national security.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

With Lewis, Senate Passes Legislation to Prevent Wage Theft

BOSTON – Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to help prevent the illegal practice of wage theft and promote employer accountability. The bill, S.2327, gives the state greater power to go after wage violators and provides additional tools for the Attorney General’s office to hold violators fully accountable.

“In spite of strong labor laws and many successful and law-abiding businesses in our state, wage theft remains a major problem in Massachusetts, especially for the most vulnerable workers, like immigrants and low-income families” said Senator Jason Lewis, Chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This legislation will help prevent and deter wage theft, ensure a level playing field for all employers, and protect the rights of working families.”

Wage theft has become a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy, with an estimated $700 million stolen from 350,000 employees each year in the Commonwealth. This illegal practice can take many different forms, such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees, or simply not paying workers at all.

To crack down on wage theft and increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors liable for wages, as well as any penalties or fines, associated with wage theft violations. The bill also enhances the enforcement power of the Attorney General’s office by allowing it to bring wage theft cases to court and seek civil damages.

In cases where there has been a determination of a wage theft violation, the Attorney General would have the ability to issue a stop work order, temporarily halting work until the violation is corrected. Employers would then have the ability to correct the violation and resume operation, or request a hearing.

The bill also establishes a wage theft compensation fund, administered by the Attorney General, to expend funds to workers and lead contractors under certain circumstances, as well as to provide worker outreach and education to prevent wage theft.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Massachusetts Legislature Announces Comprehensive Proposal on Sales Tax Holiday, Minimum Wage, and Family and Medical Leave

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts State Senate announced today a legislative proposal to raise the minimum wage; create a framework for paid family and medical leave for most workers; and establish a permanent sales tax holiday.
The legislation is based on months of negotiations with stakeholders sponsoring proposed ballot questions for the November 2018 election. It is scheduled to come to the House and Senate floors on Wednesday.
“This compromise strikes the right balance of empowering employees, supporting our hardworking residents and ensuring that businesses can continue to provide good, steady jobs,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I sincerely thank the stakeholders who came to the table and the legislators who brokered this compromise.”
“This compromise is designed to benefit working families, support businesses throughout the Commonwealth, and grow our economy,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler. “I commend the work done by the stakeholders and legislators through this process.”
Among other initiatives, this legislative proposal does the following:
  • Creates a permanent sales tax holiday, beginning in 2019;
  • Increases the minimum wage to $15.00 over the next five years;
  • Increases the tip wage to $6.75 over the next five years;
  • Gradually phases out premium pay on Sundays and holidays;
  • Establishes a Department of Family and Medical Leave within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development;
  • Creates a framework for family leave of 12 weeks; family leave for the care of a service member of 26 weeks; and medical leave for up to 20 weeks; and
  • Exempts small businesses from financial contribution to the paid family and medical leave fund
The proposal leaves the sales tax unchanged, and does not impose a teen sub-minimum wage.
“I’m pleased that this compromise will lift up working families in the Commonwealth, with a $15 minimum wage and a strong paid family and medical leave program, said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “At the same time, the legislation balances the concerns of employers, particularly small businesses that form the backbone of our Main Streets. I greatly appreciate the hard work and spirit of collaboration that all the stakeholders have exhibited through this process.”
“I am pleased to put forward this bill which empowers workers, recognizes the needs of business owners, and ensures that Massachusetts residents will no longer have to choose between caring for a sick relative or losing their job,” said Representative Paul Brodeur, House Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “This bill is the result of months of negotiations and demonstrates that regardless of what happens in Washington, here in Massachusetts we focus on cooperation and compromise.”

Senator Jason Lewis Announces Plan to Revive Fair Share Amendment

A statement from State Senator Jason M. Lewis:

At the start of the next legislative session in January 2019, I plan to file a legislative amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that would create a 4% surtax on annual individual income above one million dollars and direct this new revenue toward investments in education and transportation.

This proposal — which would be identical to the initiative petition pursued by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition and recently disqualified from the 2018 ballot by the Supreme Judicial Court — would not be subject to the same constitutional challenges that derailed the Raise Up petition since it would be a legislative proposal. With support from my colleagues, it could be on the ballot for voters to make the final decision in 2022.

Income inequality is at unacceptable levels in Massachusetts and, at the same time, our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate and our schools are struggling to provide a quality education to every student. If we don’t act boldly and comprehensively to address these issues, then we will put the future of our communities and state economy at risk.

The constitutional amendment would help fix crumbling roads and bridges, improve MBTA and commuter rail service, implement the bipartisan recommendations of the Chapter 70 Foundation Budget Review Commission to provide adequate funding for K-12 schools, expand access to quality early childhood education, and make higher education at our state colleges and universities more affordable for students and families.

Numerous polls have indicated overwhelming public support for this proposal. In addition, in two successive constitutional conventions, lawmakers voted with 70% support to move this proposal forward.

Although I’m deeply disappointed that the Raise Up petition will not be on the ballot in 2018, I remain absolutely committed to achieving greater fairness in our state’s tax system and ensuring that we are investing in the future of our families, communities, and Commonwealth.

Senate Passes an Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future

The Massachusetts Senate unanimously voted to pass S.2545, An Act to promote a clean energy future. This legislation represents a firm stand by the Senate to ensure a healthier, cleaner Commonwealth for future generations of Massachusetts residents. Most importantly, the policies enacted in this legislation will have measurable benefits in the health of the global environment.

This legislation is a forward-looking plan that prepares Massachusetts for the inevitable obstacles that will come with climate change. The policies and programs will protect public health, increase the use of renewable energy, reduce greenhouse emissions, implement a price on carbon, and create jobs in the innovative green-energy economy.

“With the unanimous passage of the clean energy bill, the Massachusetts State Senate has taken a major step forward in the effort to fight climate change and accelerate our shift away from fossil fuels,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “The imminent threat of climate change demands urgency from our leaders and policymakers, and I’m proud that my colleagues stepped up to the challenge and took bold action to protect the environment, promote the Massachusetts green economy, and empower our communities.”

The legislation raises renewable portfolio standards, lifts the cap on solar net metering, authorizes additional hydropower and offshore wind procurement, establishes market-based greenhouse-gas emission limits, and implements statewide energy storage goals.

Senator Lewis also sponsored a successfully adopted amendment which requires the Energy Facilities Siting Board, the state review body for utilities projects, to consider local public health as a potential impact when major energy infrastructure projects are proposed. This means that the EFSB must weigh not only cost of these projects, but also the health of neighborhoods and communities for projects like the proposed Eversource transmission line in our district. Senator Lewis has been actively involved in addressing neighborhood and community concerns regarding this project.

Specific policy changes include:

  • Increasing the percentage of Class I renewable energy that must be purchased by retail electric suppliers under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from an additional 1% annually to an additional 3% annually.
  • The legislation requires the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to establish market-based compliance mechanisms to maximize the ability of the Commonwealth to achieve its greenhouse gas emission limits for: (i) the transportation sector not later than December 31, 2020; (ii) the commercial and industrial building sectors not later than December 31, 2021; and (iii) the residential building sector not later than December 31, 2022.
  • Requiring the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to adopt statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits for the years 2030 (35% and 45% below the 1990 emissions level) and 2040 (55% and 65% below the 1990 emissions level), and a plan to achieve those reductions.
  • Requiring the 2030 emission limit to be adopted no later than 2021 and the 2040 emissions limit to be adopted not later than 2031.
  • Requiring the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to issue a plan to achieve the 2050 emissions limit.
  • Requiring the Department of Energy Resources to establish an energy storage system target program to achieve a statewide energy storage deployment target of 2,000 mega-watts by January 1, 2025.
  • Removing the net metering cap for non-governmental solar net metering facilities.
  • Eliminating the current sunset date of December 31, 2020 for the regulations promulgated under the Global Warming Solutions Act.
  • Creating a joint procurement taskforce consisting of the Department of Energy Resources, the Attorney General and representatives of the distribution companies, to conduct a review of the clean energy procurements.
  • Allowing the Department of Energy Resources to recommend solicitations and procurements for more than 9,450,000 megawatts-hours of clean energy generation, and to recommend offshore wind energy generation solicitations and procurements of up to 5,000 megawatts of aggregate nameplate capacity by December 31, 2035.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jason Lewis Backs Passage of Major Life Sciences Bill

The Massachusetts State Senate voted on May 31 to pass a bill extending the state’s investment in life sciences research and training to capitalize on the state’s national advantage in the sector responsible for thousands of jobs in the state.

The bill, S.2531, An Act providing continued investment in the life sciences industry in the Commonwealth, extends the state’s life sciences tax incentive program for another ten years, proposes millions of dollars in grants to community colleges and vocational schools to increase employment opportunities, and authorizes spending on initiatives to promote regional efforts to advance innovations in bio-manufacturing. The bill is based on the $1 billion, ten-year initiative launched by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007.

“The biotech and life sciences industry is a major economic driver in Massachusetts, and a hub of innovation for the global economy,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “With this legislation, our state can dramatically expand workforce development in life sciences and continue to develop our world-class industrial and bio-manufacturing capacity.

Senator Lewis was particularly pleased with a provision in the bill, which he helped to write, that promotes workforce development programs, like apprenticeships, in the life sciences sector. As the Senate Chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and a longstanding champion for working families, Senator Lewis emphasized that the growth and gains of the life sciences sector should create opportunities for all Massachusetts workers.

The bill also authorizes spending for innovative new programs at the state’s UMass campuses, including:

  • a biotechnology and precision manufacturing research and training facility at UMass-Amherst
  • a center for nursing innovation at UMass-Boston
  • expansion and renovation of the center for advanced bio-manufacturing and digital health at UMass-Dartmouth
  • a joint proposal between UMass-Lowell and UMass Medical School to advance neuroscience workforce training, research and commercialization of medical devices

The bill will be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the governor for his signature.