Month: July 2017

Senator Lesser Votes with Senate to Expand Property Tax Breaks

Bill gives cities and towns more options to adjust property taxes for seniors, veterans and the disabled

BOSTON — Today the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation allowing cities and towns to provide property tax breaks for low-income seniors, veterans and the disabled.

“Property taxes can be a large burden for those already have tight finances. This will allow more flexibility to cities and towns, to offer property tax relief to those who need it most, from senior citizens to veterans and the disabled,” said Senator Eric Lesser.

The legislative package allows a city or town to expand the existing property tax deferral for senior citizens and for active military personnel. It includes the option to extend the time for paying back interest on deferred taxes, and enables a city or town to reduce the interest rate on deferred taxes to less than 16 percent of what would apply once the active military personnel or senior passes away or the property is sold.

The bill also increases the tax credit for veterans under the volunteer service property tax reduction program from $1,000 to $1,500.

“A society is judged on how we treat our most vulnerable. Today’s legislation reduces the tax burden on our low-income seniors, the disabled, and our military service personnel,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg. “The Senate continues to look for ways to help those in need while balancing the needs of local communities to provide services to our residents.”

“Thank you to my fellow colleagues and staff who worked to piece this legislation together. This bill gives the cities and towns of our Commonwealth the opportunity to aid our senior citizens and military personal by developing existing property tax deferrals for them. This legislation provides the tax breaks and relief for those in need, most importantly our veterans, low-income seniors and the disabled,” said Sen. Michael Brady of Brockton, who sponsored the bill. “I am proud of the work our legislature has done on their behalf.”

The bill also creates two new local option real property tax exemptions for deaf individuals by providing an exemption of $5,000 of taxable valuation or $437.50 of actual taxes due, whichever is greater. In addition, the bill extends the foreclosure grace period from the current six-month window to a one-year window.

Finally, the bill improves the application deadlines for agricultural, horticultural, or recreational land.  Currently, the reporting deadline for chapter land applications to apply to have land valued, assessed and taxed as agricultural, forest or recreational land is October 1, which burdens farmers during the harvest season with paperwork that could be done at a later date. This bill moves the deadline to December 1 and amends and aligns the appeals deadlines.

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

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Lesser Proposal to Create EpiPen Bulk Purchase Program Signed Into Law

“This program will reduce health care costs and bring significant health benefits to the state — including the potential to save lives,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker signed a budget, approved by both the House and Senate, which included a budget amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser to create a bulk purchase program for cities and towns to buy doses of EpiPens at a reduced price.

The proposal was based on the successful Narcan bulk purchase program, which was created by the Senate in 2015 and is administered by the Office of the Attorney General.

That program allows cities and towns to pool their resources to buy doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in bulk, reducing the price.

The goal of this amendment is to replicate that success with EpiPens, for which 10,000 schoolchildren in Massachusetts have prescriptions.

“As the price of EpiPens has continued to climb, parents have been forced to make unbearable choices between paying for a lifesaving drug for their child or paying for any number of other bills. This program will reduce health care costs and bring significant health benefits to the state — including the potential to save lives,” said Sen. Lesser.

Earlier this month, Sen. Lesser and a constituent, Dr. Mark Kenton at Mercy Medical Center, testified in favor of the proposal before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

Last year, Dr. Kenton wrote an open letter to the CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen, that went viral on Facebook.

Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, acquired the decades-old product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for a two-pen set, and has since been steadily raising the wholesale price.

In 2009, a pharmacy paid $103.50 for a set. By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.

“Any family will have six to eight at home, $600 for one 2-pack, you’re looking at 1,800 dollars at least. It’s just a huge cost burden,” Dr. Kenton said.

Now, the bulk purchase program will allow the state to leverage its purchasing power to lower the price of EpiPens for families and allergy sufferers who need it.

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Sen. Lesser, Rep. Higgins Testify in Support of Their Proposed “Student Loan Bill of Rights”

“We cannot be reactive to this issue; we must be proactive and prevent these abuses,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Natalie Higgins of Leominster testified before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in support of their bill to establish a “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” which would protect student loan borrowers from deceptive practices by student loan servicers.

“Massachusetts cannot rely on a patchwork of federal regulations and state legal actions that do not fully protect borrowers. We cannot be reactive to this issue; we must be proactive and prevent these abuses to the maximum extent possible,” Sen. Lesser said in his testimony.

Some of the documented abuses of students by student loan companies include late-night collection calls and steering borrowers into costly repayment plans. Sometimes, loan servicers will send bill payment notices in unmarked envelopes with vague return addresses, “almost hoping” the envelope gets lost in the shuffle, Sen. Lesser said.

“Then, when the payment is missed, the interest rate skyrockets,” he said.

 

Rep. Higgins shared her own student loan story with the committee.

“I did everything right. I went to a public college, worked my way through and finished in three years — and my parents still took out $60,000 in loans to help me afford it,” Rep. Higgins said.

Their proposed bill would establish a state Student Loan Ombudsman to investigate students’ complaints, educate borrowers and monitor student loan servicers. It would also require all servicers to be licensed with the state and follow standards of conduct subject to enforcement by the Division of Banks.

The bill would also allow the Bank Commissioner to take legal action against servicers who violate this bill of rights, including forcing servicers to repay student borrowers if they were found to be overcharged.

The bill is based in part on a similar bill that passed in Connecticut in 2015. Since then, 10 other states have enacted similar legislation: Michigan, Washington, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, California, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and New York.

At the end of 2016, there were 44 million Americans with $1.3 trillion in debt. In Massachusetts, the average amount of debt per student is at $31,466, seventh highest in the country.

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Senator Lesser, Mercy Medical Doctor Testify On His Plan to Create EpiPen Bulk Purchase Program

“Being able to afford EpiPens is a matter of life and death,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser and Dr. Mark Kenton of Mercy Medical Center testified before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in support of Sen. Lesser’s bill to create an EpiPen bulk purchase program that would dramatically reduce the cost of EpiPens in Massachusetts.

The proposal was based off the successful Narcan bulk purchase program, which was created by the Senate in 2015 and is administered by the Office of the Attorney General.

That program allows cities and towns to pool their resources to buy doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in bulk, reducing the price.

In the first half of 2016, the Narcan bulk purchase program was responsible for saving 1,500 lives according to a report from the Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner.

The goal of this bill is to replicate that success with EpiPens, which have been prescribed to about 10,000 schoolchildren in Massachusetts as of 2012, the last year for which data are readily available.

“This program would result in significant public health benefits and have the potential to reduce health care costs through increased purchase capacity,” said Sen. Lesser. “Being able to afford EpiPens is a matter of life and death.”

The EpiPen bulk purchase program would allow cities and towns to pay into a trust fund that could then be used to buy EpiPens in bulk directly from the manufacturer, reducing the price. The cities and towns could then allocate the EpiPens to schools and first responders.

Dr. Kenton, whose open letter on Facebook to the CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen, went viral last year, testified alongside Sen. Lesser.

In a demonstration, he showed how much quicker and more efficient EpiPens are to the older method of delivering epinephrine to a patient, using a needle to draw the medicine out of a bottle.

“44 seconds versus five seconds. That difference in time is the time that a child’s airway swells…that the airway closes. That difference in time is the time that a child goes to respiratory arrest and then goes to cardiac arrest. That difference in time is the time that I may have to tell a parent that their child died,” Dr. Kenton said.

Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, acquired the decades-old product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for a two-pen set, and has since been steadily raising the wholesale price.

In 2009, a pharmacy paid $103.50 for a set. By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.

“It’s important to note that Mylan did not invent the EpiPen; it bought the marketing rights to sell the solution to this critical health issue,” said Sen. Lesser.

Last week, the state House and Senate voted to approve a $40.2 billion budget that includes Sen. Lesser’s proposal to create a bulk purchase program for EpiPens.

Governor Charlie Baker has until July 17 to review and sign the budget and issue any line-item vetoes.

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Senator Lesser Issues Statement after House Strips East-West Rail Study from Budget

SPRINGFIELD — Today the Conference Committee released its compromise budget, which stripped the amendment to study east-west rail from Boston to Springfield. The measure had been included in the Senate version of the budget. Following the House and Senate votes to pass the compromise budget, Senator Eric P. Lesser released the following statement:

“I am disappointed that our proposal to study east-west rail from Boston to Springfield was stripped from the final budget, but remain undeterred. I share the frustration of countless residents in Western Mass and across the Commonwealth who are fed up with a political process that consistently leaves our region behind — not to mention stuck in traffic.

“This is, and always has been, a modest proposal with a potentially transformative goal: to reduce the regional inequality of our state and provide more opportunities for the residents of Western Mass. That’s why it passed the Senate 38-0. That’s why both Democrats and Republicans support it. That’s why business groups across the state support it.

“But we always knew it was going to be a tough fight to get this passed. If it were easy, it would have happened already. Entrenched interests are hard to dislodge. While the study was not included in this round, eventually good ideas have a way of bubbling to the top. And I am confident that we will once again get this to the Governor’s desk for signature.”

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