Month: December 2015

Op-Ed: Making college more affordable

In MassLive, Dec. 14, 2015

This winter break, college students are bringing home more than just loads of laundry: they’re also bringing mounting loads of debt.

Student debt is a simmering crisis for young adults and their families. Nationally, 40 million people owe more than $1.2 trillion in student loans. In Massachusetts, the average student loan debt has increased by nearly 75 percent over the past decade, from $17,000 to more than $29,000. As college costs continue rise, this will only get worse.

Simply put, this is unfair and unsustainable, both for families struggling to pay tuition bills, and for our wider society, which benefits tremendously from a well-educated workforce. Skyrocketing debt is forcing young adults to delay marriage, home ownership and family-building. Student debt pushes graduates out of essential but lower-paying public service jobs like teaching. As a recent law school graduate, homeowner, and young father, I’m familiar with these types of financial strains.

I also know that in many cases, rising costs and a weak job market have combined to force many young people to forgo college altogether. These are some of the reasons why I’m so committed to tackling this issue in the Senate.

This year, for example, I joined a bipartisan group of legislators to override $5.2 million in funding cuts to UMass. I also voted to give UMass the ability to directly keep in-state tuition dollars paid by students, improving transparency and finally aligning UMass with the vast majority of other state universities.

In addition, I support a bill that would create an income tax deduction (up to $5000 per year) for contributions made to qualified college savings and 529 plans. Similar to an IRA, these plans allow families to save and pay for college tax-free. More than 30 states already provide incentives to invest in these types of plans. We need to catch up.

I also support a bill that provides full tuition, after financial aid and gift aid, for all residents who attend community college in Massachusetts, modeled after a highly successful program in Tennessee. Community colleges educate nearly half of Massachusetts college students, training them for valuable careers while also offering an affordable path to a 4-year degree.

There are also innovative programs happening locally that we can use as models. STCC and Westfield State, for example, set up a transfer program for students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree at a maximum 4 year total cost of $30,000 in tuition and mandatory fees. This approach gives families a highly valuable tool while saving for college: a fixed savings target.

Massachusetts is a global center of education and knowledge. A highly educated population is the key to our economic future. Alarmingly, while other states like Indiana and Tennessee are taking significant steps to make college affordable, Massachusetts is increasingly falling behind.

In this knowledge-based economy, a college degree has never been more important. Unfortunately, rising costs have also made it increasingly out of reach, robbing young people of their full potential. We can change that.

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

Sen. Lesser Votes With Senate to Pass Social Media Privacy Bill

Sen. Eric P. Lesser voted in favor of a successfully passed Senate bill that prohibits educational institutions and employers from requiring students or employees to turn over their social media account information as a requirement for admission or hiring. The bill applies to all social media applications, including protecting personal Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

“Our personal social media activity deserves the same degree of privacy protection as the personal diaries, mail and photo albums we keep at home,” said Sen. Lesser, who is a co-sponsor of the original bill.

“The end goal is to ensure that students and job applicants are not pressured to provide password information or accept connection requests in order to be accepted to an activity or land a job,” Sen. Lesser added.

More than twenty states have passed similar social media privacy laws, including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The bill, sponsored by the Senate Assistant Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and co-sponsored by Sen. Lesser, includes exemptions allowing schools and employers to examine incidents or conduct investigations tied to social network accounts when there is reason to do so.

“If your social media account information is behind a password, intended for your friend and family members only, it’s appropriate and un-American to require it to be disclosed without good reason.”

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House for further consideration.

Sen. Lesser Meets With C-SPAN Documentary Competition Participants at Baird Middle School

Sen. Eric P. Lesser visited Baird Middle School in Ludlow Dec. 7, to be interviewed by students are participating in C-SPAN’S Annual Student Video Documentary Competition.

“The students I met through this video project impressed me not only with their well-researched questions, but also with their enthusiasm for civic engagement, both at the local and national level,” Sen. Lesser said. “As a state legislator I’m confident that our Commonwealth’s future is in good hands.”

The annual C-SPAN competition encourages students to think critically about issues that affect their communities and country. Last year, Baird students received Honorable mention in the National Competition for their video titled “Common Core,” about the education policies that affect Common Core standards.

Mass. Narcan Bulk Purchasing Program Launches, Aided By Sen. Lesser’s Legislation

Sen. Eric P. Lesser announced that effective immediately, cities and towns across the Commonwealth can order naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug commonly known as Narcan, at a discounted price through a statewide bulk purchasing program.

“Narcan is an indispensable tool in combating the opioid epidemic in our Commonwealth,” Sen. Lesser said. “This bulk purchasing program will allow more of our police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders to administer this drug, and help save lives in the process.”

“The use of naloxone has saved lives in Springfield and across Massachusetts, and is one of our state’s greatest success stories in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel. “Thanks to the legislature and Senator Lesser’s legislation to create the bulk purchasing trust fund, this effort to lower the cost of naloxone will allow Western Massachusetts municipalities, first responders, and those most likely to witness overdoses to be more prepared and equipped to save lives.”

“This discounted rate for naloxone is essential for first responders statewide who are increasingly responding to overdoses and need to administer this life-saving drug. We are pleased to announce the immediate implementation of this critical program with the Department of Public Health and thank Senator Lesser for his continued advocacy to ensure that our cities and towns are equipped to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Attorney General Maura Healey.

Healey’s office negotiated an agreement in September with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Narcan, to pay $325,000 into the trust fund supporting the program. These funds were added to the $100,000 already allocated to the program by the Massachusetts Legislature in the 2016 state budget.

The Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase program allows any state agency, municipality or municipal first responder agency to purchase naloxone at the cost negotiated between the Commonwealth and the wholesaler. First responder agencies will be eligible to purchase naloxone at a deeply discounted rate of $20 per dose.

In January, Senator Lesser filed a bill that served as a blueprint for the Senate’s proposal to establish the bulk-purchasing program announced today. He also introduced a bill, passed into law through an amendment to the Senate budget, that would close the pharmacy shopping loophole by reducing the length of time pharmacies must report the prescriptions of highly addictive narcotics from 7 days to 24 hours.

Nearly 1,300 people in Massachusetts died of an unintentional opiate-related overdose in 2014, representing a nearly 60 percent increase since 2012. Opioids now kill more people in Massachusetts than car accidents and guns combined.

The number of opioid overdose-related fatalities in Western Massachusetts would be 13 to 14 times higher if not for Narcan’s role, according to Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan.

More information on the bulk purchasing program, including procedures for interested cities and towns, is available at