Month: September 2015

Op-ed: Promoting innovation in government

We live in a time when technology is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, from how we shop and travel (Amazon, Airbnb, Uber), to how we communicate and find entertainment (Facebook, Instagram, Netflix). Thanks to mobile Internet, almost all human knowledge is now accessible with a few taps on the Smartphone in your pocket.

But one sector that has been very slow to change is government. As a result, our state government is not as efficient or responsive as it needs to be. Just one small example: after taking office this January as the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate, I flipped open my laptop to get to work. I was surprised to learn the State House still doesn’t have Wi-Fi.

Every day, I hear from constituents who spend hours waiting in lines, making endless phone calls, and taking time off from work to handle routine government business that could probably be completed with a few swipes on an iPhone. Recent high-profile mishaps, from the flawed rollout of the Health Connector to the error-plagued transition to a new computer system for unemployment benefits, have made it painfully clear that failing to properly incorporate new technology comes at significant cost. This isn’t about big government or small government: it’s about efficient government. Massachusetts, as one of our nation’s great innovation centers, can and must do better.

Locally, we’ve seen how new technology can improve government services. The police departments in Belchertown and Ludlow use “text a tip” to follow leads. ShotSpotter, a technology that tracks the location of gunshots, helps to quickly and accurately dispatch police. Chicopee recently set up free Wi-Fi, and Boston has an entire unit dedicated to using technology to improve city services, from fixing potholes to tracking your child’s school bus.

Other states have good examples to learn from, as well. Connecticut set up a program to collect and analyze motor vehicle crash data, giving law enforcement new tools to improve traffic patterns. Utah’s Open Data Catalog improves government transparency by consolidating various types of state data in one location, so citizens have easy access to state maps, demographic info, and more detail about how their tax dollars are spent. I hope to bring more initiatives like these to Western Massachusetts, so we can improve government services and make our Commonwealth more transparent and efficient.

That’s why I’m currently working on several initiatives to promote more innovation in government. I co-sponsored the Innovate Communities Bill, filed by Senator Karen Spilka, which passed the Senate over the summer. This legislation would encourage tech startups to partner with cities and towns on new ways to deliver services. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has recommended a new “Center for Excellence” to focus on how to use technology to improve government across various departments, from healthcare and energy to education and transportation.

Technology is rapidly changing the world by speeding up the delivery of goods, services, and information while increasing transparency and accountability.

It’s time we do the same for state government.

Eric P. Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District

Senator Eric Lesser Visits Hampden Senior Center for Family Dining Event

Sen. Eric P. Lesser addresses residents and visitors at the Hampden Senior Center for its “Take Time to Dine” event, held Sunday, Oct. 20. The event encouraged families to share regular meals together and gave tips for making family dinners more interactive.

Senator Lesser is a frequent visitor to senior centers in his district.

“Engaging the community about issues that matter to them is important to me. I want to know what types of things I can bring back to State House that will help people here, at home,” he said.

Senator Eric Lesser Welcomes Longmeadow Residents to State House

Sen. Eric P. Lesser welcomed Nancy and Bill Squires of Longmeadow to the State House on Thursday, September 17.

“Nancy and Bill are exemplary citizens as well as strong supporters of Rachel’s Table, an organization that transports food that otherwise would be wasted to families in need,” Senator Lesser said.

Senator Lesser introduced the couple to members of the Senate during formal legislative session, to hearty applause. The couple also had lunch with Senator Lesser and met with members of his staff.

Senate Opioid Committee Releases Legislation to Address Addiction Epidemic

Legislation focuses on limiting minors’ access to prescription drugs and expanding requirements for drug and insurance companies

Senator  Lesser announced that the Massachusetts Senate Special Committee on Opioid Addiction, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Options has issued legislation to address the substance abuse crisis in the Commonwealth.

In particular, the legislation seeks to limit the excessive number of unused prescription pills that have become the primary gateway to heroin addiction. Nationally, 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers, according to the CDC.

“This legislation includes several key provisions to hold drug companies accountable, keep children safe from prescription pills and stem the tide of addiction in our state. It also provides additional tools for schools, public health and safety officials to combat this epidemic,” said Senator Lesser, who is the sole Western Massachusetts senator on the committee.

Specific provisions in the legislation include:

  • Screening students for substance abuse issues in school
  • Allowing partial fills of prescription drugs so unwanted opiates are not left inside homes
  • Requiring  drug manufacturers to establish drug take-back programs
  • Requiring each insurance carrier to develop a prescription drug safety plan
  • Protecting “Good Samaritans” who administer Narcan (overdose-reversal drug) from civil liability.

A full copy of the legislation is available here.

The Special Senate Committee was formed at the start of this year’s legislative session in response to the substantial increase in opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that there were 1,008 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2014, a 33 percent jump from 2012. Opioids kill more people in Massachusetts than car accidents and guns combined.

Senator Lesser Announces $86,500 in New Grants to Local Schools and Cultural Organizations

Senator Lesser announced that the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has awarded grants totaling $86,500 to cultural organizations, schools and communities in the First Hampden & Hampshire District.

A total of $14,300 in grants will support cultural organizations and schools, along with $72,200 in funding for town cultural councils, which support local arts and history, school field trips and local concerts and exhibitions.

“These grants support a broad range of cultural activities – everything from community concerts to arts education in public schools, while also supporting jobs in the vibrant arts and culture sector,” Senator Lesser said. “Our support for the arts, humanities and sciences strengthens our economy, and helps our young people explore their creativity in school and beyond.”

The announcement was made as part of the MCC’s statewide funding program, which received a $2.16 million increase to its state appropriation in the FY’16 Budget. Senator Lesser, as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development, was a co-sponsor of the funding increase.

The MCC is a state agency supporting the arts, sciences and humanities. It aims to improve the quality of life for residents of Massachusetts through a combination of grants, services, and advocacy for nonprofit cultural organizations, schools, communities and artists.

Senator Eric Lesser Shares Advice on College Readiness to Students at Granby Junior-Senior High School

Sen. Eric P. Lesser addressed students at Granby High School’s College Success Campaign Kickoff Event on Friday, Sept. 11. Senator Lesser spoke of the value of taking AP classes, shared tips on preparing for college, and explained how college graduation helps young adults build better lives for themselves and their communities.

Senator Eric Lesser Greets Seniors At Annual Granby Summer Picnic

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Senator Eric Lesser Announces More Than $19.25 Million in Unclaimed Financial Property for Western Mass Residents

Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow) announced that more than $19.25 million in financial property is unclaimed and available for residents in the First Hampden and Hampshire District.

“Many people are pleasantly surprised to learn that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may actually owe them money,” Senator Lesser said. “I encourage residents to check with the Treasury Department and see if they may have unclaimed property in their name.”

Unclaimed property includes forgotten savings and checking accounts, un-cashed checks, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, dividends and the contents of unattended safe deposit boxes. Most accounts are considered abandoned and are turned over to the state after three years of inactivity.

Last year Treasury returned over $112 million in property to its rightful owners, making Massachusetts the state to return the most money on a per-capita basis.

The Treasury releases an updated list of unclaimed property assets every six months as the new accounts are turned over to the Commonwealth. There is no time limit for a person to claim this property and, in many cases, claimants will receive interest.

Residents can check the comprehensive list for all amounts at www.findmassmoney.com or can call the Treasury’s live call center at 888-344-MASS (6277).

Senator Lesser Joins Attorney General Healey to Announce Trust Fund for Lifesaving Anti-Overdose Drug

Senator Eric P. Lesser joined Attorney General Maura Healey, Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Lou Sudders, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Senator John Keenan, first responders, and families touched by addiction from across Massachusetts to announce the creation of a new trust fund for the bulk purchase of Narcan, a lifesaving anti-overdose medication.

The new trust fund is possible in part because of legislation filed by Senator Lesser in January, which was incorporated into the FY2016 budget this July. The legislature established this fund and set aside $100,000 for it, and this week, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Narcan, has agreed to pay $325,000 – enough for roughly 10,000 doses of this life-saving medicine.

“The heroin epidemic is wreaking havoc in our state, and we need every tool available to prevent further deaths,” Senator Lesser said. “The Narcan trust fund will allow more of our police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders to administer this life-saving drug, saving lives in the process.”

“This agreement is about saving lives and about taking action to help families fight the heroin and opioid epidemic,” Attorney General Healey said. “This funding will help put Narcan into the hands of all first responders. We thank Senator Lesser for his continued advocacy and support for making Narcan more widely available to police and firefighters statewide.”

The Attorney General’s office worked with Amphastar to secure the $325,000 announced today. Now with close to half a million dollars, the trust fund will get to work making Narcan cheaper and more accessible for the first responders who use this drug every day.

The drug has shown consistently high overdose reversal success rates. For example, Quincy has seen a 95% success rate since the police department became the first in the country to equip every officer with Narcan in 2010.