Month: December 2017

Senator Lesser Reminds Constituents That State Health Insurance Coverage Remains Despite Tax Bill Passed By Congress

SPRINGFIELD — In an effort to quell confusion following Congress’ passage Wednesday of a sweeping tax bill, Senator Eric P. Lesser notified constituents on Thursday that Massachusetts is protected from a measure in the bill that effectively repeals the federal health insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Despite the bill passed by Congress, which is expected to be signed by President Trump, Massachusetts has a statewide individual mandate.

In a statement, Senator Lesser said:

“All our residents should still make sure that they have health insurance coverage, which must be purchased by January 23, when the current open enrollment period ends. Here in Massachusetts, we are committed to providing healthcare to all our residents and our record speaks for itself — we have nearly 100 percent coverage in our state.

“Regardless of what Congress and President Trump do, I will do everything I can to make sure our residents’ healthcare is protected, and that everyone has access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage.”

Those in need of coverage can buy insurance on the state’s insurance exchange, called the Massachusetts Health Connector. They have until Saturday Dec. 23 to select a plan to go into effect in January. They have until Jan. 23 to select coverage that begins in February.

Today, 97.5 percent of Massachusetts residents have health coverage, the highest rate in the country, according to an October 2017 report by the U.S. Census. In part because of this high rate of coverage, Massachusetts was named the healthiest state in the nation in a report by the United Health Foundation.

Massachusetts’ health care reform law passed in 2006 on a bipartisan basis and was signed into law by then-Governor Mitt Romney. As a result, Massachusetts’ health care reform law served as a model for national health care reform in 2009 when Congress passed the ACA requiring a national health insurance mandate.

Massachusetts chose to keep its state-level mandate in place because its benefit coverage standards, which varied slightly from those in the ACA, had proven to be effective in the state’s market. Adults aged 18 and older need to carry health insurance if it is affordable to them and that meets certain coverage standards. More information can be found at www.betterhealthconnector.com.

According to the Massachusetts Health Connector, the individual mandate enables the state to maintain and grow its level of health coverage by keeping the health insurance market stable. When both healthy and sick people buy into health coverage, risk for insurers is balanced and health coverage is more affordable for everyone.

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Senator Lesser Signs Letter to Gov. Baker Urging Additional Resources for Regional School Transportation

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser, along with several Western Mass. Representatives and Senators, signed a letter to Governor Charlie Baker on Dec. 12 requesting that the state fully reimburse regional school districts for the cost of transporting students.

“Costs associated with transportation in a regional school district represent a significant portion of a district’s budget because of the geographical footprint associated with bus routes across numerous communities, often with low population densities,” the letter reads in part.

The state currently has 58 regional school districts, which enroll about 107,000 students in more than 170 communities, the letter notes.

“The state has previously committed to providing this vital funding, and it’s time it live up to its commitment. Fully reimbursing our regional school transportation costs is vital to our city and town budgets, many of which already struggle to come up with enough resources for our schools. I urge the Baker Administration to step up and help our schools meet this need,” said Sen. Lesser.

Regional school districts are mandated by the state to transport all students to and from their homes. This cost is usually at least partially reimbursed by the state, but this decision is revisited each year during budget negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor.

“Committing to 100% reimbursement would allow regional school districts to responsibly plan for upcoming school years,” the letter states.

The signers are all members of the Regional Schools Caucus which advocates on issues important to regional — and usually rural — schools.

They include Sens. Anne Gobi, the Senate chair of the caucus, and Adam Hinds and Reps. Peter Kocot, Smitty Pignatelli, Angelo Puppolo, Todd Smola, Stephen Kulik, Nicholas Boldyga, Solomon Goldstein-Rose and Paul Mark.

Read the full letter: Senator Lesser Co-Signs Letter to Gov. Baker on Regional School Transportation

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Senator Lesser’s Statement on Greenfield’s Lawsuit Against Opioid Makers

SPRINGFIELD — On Thursday, Dec. 14, the town of Greenfield filed a lawsuit against major pharmaceutical companies for failing to properly monitor the distribution of the opioids they manufactured.

The Greenfield suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Springfield, rests in part on the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which requires drug companies to report unusually large or otherwise suspicious orders, according to a report by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

In response to the lawsuit, State Senator Eric P. Lesser issued the following statement:

“Make no mistake: deliberate decisions were made by Big Pharma companies to flood our communities with super-powerful painkillers, knowing full well these drugs were highly addictive and prone to misuse. The result is one of the worst public health emergencies in American history and thousands of devastated families in Western Massachusetts.

“The evidence is mounting that these companies marketed these drugs and put them in the hands of patients knowing how addictive they are and knowing the power they had to destroy lives. I’m glad Greenfield is taking this courageous step at holding Big Pharma accountable. I hope more communities, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, take this case on as well.”

Senator Lesser has been a leader in fighting the opioid epidemic. Most recently, he sponsored an amendment to the Senate’s healthcare reform package that included funding for research into medication-assisted treatment to explore alternative treatments for pain. In January 2015, Senator Lesser filed a bill that served as a blueprint for the Massachusetts bulk purchasing program for Narcan, an opiate overdose-reversal drug.

You can read more about Senator Lesser’s work to address the opioid epidemic here.

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Senator Lesser Tours Local Businesses to Encourage “Shopping Small” This Holiday Season

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser toured a handful of local businesses on Dec. 18 to encourage “shopping small” during the holiday season and discuss the current regulatory environment with business owners.

“Visiting these small businesses helps me get a sense of their day-to-day pressures and what they are doing to stay competitive in Western Mass,” said Senator Lesser.

Senator Lesser wrote an op-ed this month in which he highlighted how the state can be responsive to small businesses’ needs, such as providing free business advising through the state’s  Small Business Development Center Network to help existing small businesses develop growth plans.

While encouraging shopping local during the holiday season, Senator Lesser also got some shopping of his own done. Among his purchases were a bag of treats from Pop’s Biscotti & Chocolates and some groceries at Arnold’s Meats in East Longmeadow.

The tour was organized in partnership with the East of the River Five-Town Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in Ludlow, Wilbraham, Hampden, East Longmeadow and Longmeadow. Nancy Connor, the Chamber’s Executive Director, accompanied Senator Lesser on the tour.

The tour kicked off at Pop’s Biscotti & Chocolates in Wilbraham, and then continued on to Village Food Mart in Hampden, Lupa Zoo in Ludlow, Fleet Feet Sports in Longmeadow and ended with a visit to Arnold’s Meats in East Longmeadow.

Photos below:


Senator Lesser talks with Timothy Murphy, one of the owners of Fleet Feet Sports in Longmeadow.

From left to right: Senator Eric Lesser; Sue Katz, owner of Arnold’s Meats in East Longmeadow; and Nancy Connor, Executive Director of the East of the River Five-Town Chamber of Commerce.

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Senator Lesser Interviewed by Ludlow Middle Schoolers for C-SPAN’s annual “StudentCam” Contest

LUDLOW — Senator Eric P. Lesser sat down for interviews with students at Ludlow’s Paul R. Baird Middle School on Dec. 14 for their entry into C-SPAN’s annual “StudentCam” contest.

The students asked Senator Lesser various questions on topics chosen by their class: immigration, gun violence prevention and women’s rights and equal pay. This is Senator Lesser’s third year participating with Baird Middle School for their contest entry.

“I was so excited to sit down with students at Baird Middle School again, and so impressed by their sharp questions. It is vital that we prepare our students for active civic participation from a young age, transforming their civics education to civic action through classroom projects. That is why I am glad Baird takes on this project each year, and why I introduced legislation to encourage civic education throughout Massachusetts. A healthy democracy needs citizens to be well-informed and engaged, and that begins with educating our young citizens,” said Senator Lesser.

Under Senator Lesser’s bill, introduced this session, an “action civics project” would be required of all students at least once in elementary school and at least once in high school. This could include projects such as proposing legislation to solve community issues, helping to register people to vote or testifying in a public hearing.

The bill, S. 278, would also create a voluntary pilot program for school districts to use and test a curriculum on news media literacy, with the ultimate goal of requiring that news media literacy be taught in all Massachusetts schools. Senator Lesser testified on the bill before the Joint Committee on Education in June.

Photos below:

Senator Eric P. Lesser sat down for interviews with students at Ludlow’s Paul R. Baird Middle School on Dec. 14 for their entry into C-SPAN’s annual “StudentCam” contest. Students asked various questions on topics chosen by their class: immigration, gun violence prevention and women’s rights and equal pay.

This is Senator Lesser’s third year participating with Baird Middle School for their entry into C-SPAN’s annual “StudentCam” contest.

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Senator Lesser Applauds Vote by State Board to Give Tuition Break to Students Relocated Due to Hurricane Maria

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser welcomed a vote by the state Board of Higher Education on Tuesday that allows students who were relocated to Massachusetts from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands because of Hurricane Maria to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

Following the vote, Senator Lesser released the following statement:

“Our state’s Board of Higher Education chose to do the right thing by our fellow Americans who fell victim to Hurricane Maria. Granting in-state tuition to students who relocated here from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands because of Hurricane Maria will help them continue their studies and contribute to our state.

“Over the months and years ahead, as these students lay roots here, potentially start families and businesses here, they will remember that Massachusetts welcomed them in their time of need. And we will be richer for their contributions to our culture and our communities.

“This decision makes me proud that Massachusetts is doing its part to help those who have been relocated from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is my hope that we will always be the port in the storm to our fellow citizens and will continue leading by example when Americans are in need.”

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Supporting local businesses this holiday season supports local jobs

In Masslive 12/13/17

Holidays are usually a rush — managing cook times so you don’t burn the latkes or the cookies, taking the kids to the Nutcracker and the school holiday parties, and, of course, getting the shopping done.

It’s this last one I want to discuss.

I hope that, in the rush of the holiday season, you’ll remember to stop at a small business for some of your shopping.

Supporting small businesses supports jobs in our community.

In Massachusetts, there are more than 600,000 small businesses, which together employ about half of the Commonwealth’s private workforce.

Across the country, small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) make up 99.7 percent of all U.S. employers, according to 2012 data from the Small Business Administration.

Small businesses are responsible for 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs — so “shopping small” may even support the job you want to apply for one day.

State government can play a big role in supporting these businesses and helping them stay competitive in an increasingly globalized marketplace. There are resources we can provide to make state rules and guidelines easier to navigate. Many regulations turn into roadblocks, and complicated licensing and permitting requirements hinder growth when they should be enhancing competition.

State government can and should be a partner.

One example is the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network’s Western Regional Office, which provides free one-on-one business advising to help existing small businesses develop growth plans and financial forecasting charts.

That is why I’ll be touring a handful of local businesses with the East of the River Five-Town Chamber of Commerce this month. I want to hear directly from small business owners about the issues they face, including the regulatory environment, and how the state can be more responsive to their needs.

Among the companies I’ll be visiting are Robert Charles Photography in East Longmeadow (great for your family Christmas card), Delaney’s Market in Longmeadow (the perfect stop to build your New Year’s cheese board) and Pop’s Biscotti and Chocolate in Wilbraham (which makes a great mid-shopping snack break).

Visiting these small businesses helps me get a sense of their day-to-day pressures and what they are doing to stay competitive in Western Mass.

Especially at a time when the whole state is buzzing with the hope of bringing Amazon’s second headquarters to Massachusetts, we need to remember that our local retailers are driving our state’s economy.

The consolidation of mom and pop shops into big box stores has taken a wrecking ball to our local economies. Through tax incentives and other means, our State Legislature should ensure that companies like the many family-owned small businesses, handed down from generation to generation, can still survive — and thrive — in our communities,.

Supporting small businesses is also vital to keeping our young talent here. How wonderful would it be if families saw their young college grads not just during the holidays a few times a year, but all year round? Creating and sustaining more job opportunities here would enable more of our young people to work and raise their families here, instead of moving away for better job prospects elsewhere.

So, this holiday season I urge you to patronize our local businesses — such as the many local craft makers and artisans selling their wares at the Downtown Springfield Holiday Market in The Shops at Marketplace.

And, whichever holiday you celebrate this season, I hope it is happy, healthy and filled with family and friends.

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State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, and leads Millennial Outreach for the Massachusetts State Senate. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts.

Senator Lesser Welcomes $2 Million in Cultural Grants to Western Massachusetts

HOLYOKE — Senator Eric P. Lesser joined Senators Donald Humason, Jr., and Adam Hinds, and Representative Aaron Vega in Holyoke on Thursday for the Mass Cultural Council’s announcement of $2 million in new grants to Western Massachusetts.

The announcement is part of the Council’s new vision and strategic plan, unveiled at www.powerofculturema.org.

The Council awarded $12 million in new grants to nonprofit cultural organizations, schools, artists and communities across the state.

“Our culture and tourism sector is a vital component of our state’s economy, particularly in Western Mass. With a vibrant new attraction in the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, and thousands of new tourists coming to the area thanks to MGM Springfield, we must continue to invest in our cultural economy. That investment pays dividends in more jobs and more tourism dollars in our local economy,” said Senator Lesser.

Senator Lesser was invited to deliver remarks at the grant announcement ceremony at the Holyoke Creative Arts Center.

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Senator Lesser Welcomes Grant to Preserve 86 Acres of Conservation Land in Belchertown

SPRINGFIELD — On Monday, Senator Eric P. Lesser applauded the announcement that the Holland Glen Conservation Area in Belchertown had been awarded a $243,636 grant to preserve the popular hiking area.

The grant, awarded by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, will help conserve 86 acres of land in the vicinity of the Holland Glen Conservation Area and a recharge area for Jabish Brook — a water supply for Belchertown and the City of Springfield.

The conservation area consists of a steep hillside with a scenic vista and is a popular place for hiking.

“This grant adds to a number of exciting development projects happening in Belchertown, including additions to Belchertown Day School and the renovation of the State School site, one of the most transformative developments in all of Western Massachusetts. The Holland Glen Conservation Area is a beloved spot for family hikes and picnics, and this conservation grant will help preserve it for generations,” said Senator Lesser.

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