Month: January 2018

Senator Lesser Announces “Major Breakthrough” on East-West Rail Study

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser announced a “major breakthrough” on Monday in his long pursuit of a state feasibility study of passenger rail service linking Springfield to Boston.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), in its 2018 State Rail Plan released on Friday, includes a feasibility study of east-west passenger rail service between Boston and Springfield. The plan to study east-west rail is backed by a personal commitment from MassDOT to Senator Lesser, he said.

Sen. Lesser made the announcement alongside Sen. James T. Welch and Representatives Brian M. Ashe and Bud Williams.

The state releases a rail plan every decade, outlining priority projects in a tiered system that designates how resources will be devoted to each project.

The fact that a study of east-west rail service is included in that plan is “a big deal,” Sen. Lesser said, because it means that a study has become a priority in the state’s transportation planning.

Sen. Lesser noted that the 2018 State Rail Plan released on Friday is a draft, and is currently open for public comment until Feb. 19. The Plan will be updated accordingly.

“This means that your support, your advocacy on behalf of east-west rail is vital at this moment, as MassDOT completes the Plan with your input. This is an appeal to the public to make your voice heard,” he said.

Sen. Lesser is a long-time advocate of east-west rail service, having supported the idea since his first campaign in 2014.

In October 2017, Sen. Lesser bussed 40 constituents to the State House to testify before the legislature’s Transportation Committee in support of his bill proposing a study of east-west rail from Boston to Springfield.

This is the second time he has introduced this bill, which requires the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to move forward with a feasibility study of Springfield-to-Boston high-speed rail. The State Senate has passed this bill three years in a row.

Since then, the proposal has continued to gain support, including high-profile endorsements from U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal, James McGovern and Seth Moulton, as well as the Chambers of Commerce in Boston and Springfield.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass “Nasty Women” Bill

Bill repeals a number of archaic statutes that discriminated against women

 

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser joined the State Senate in a unanimous vote Thursday to pass the “NASTY Women Act,” which repeals a number of archaic state laws that discriminated against women.

The act, formally the Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women bill, strikes down outdated state statutes like a prohibition on contraception for unmarried people.

“There is no reason these laws should still be on the books,” said Senator Lesser. “I am proud to have joined the Senate in voting to repeal these statutes and affirm that in Massachusetts, we will defend women’s rights and protect women’s healthcare access.”

The bill gets its name from a moment in the 2016 campaign, when then-candidate Donald Trump called his opponent Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during the final presidential debate in October.

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Senator Lesser Testifies on Bill to Protect Driver Privacy

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser testified on his bill to protect driver information collected by the new Mass Pike toll gantries on Wednesday, saying that they are collecting “unprecedented” amounts of information.

Speaking before the Transportation Committee, on which he was recently named Vice Chair, Senator Lesser said the convenience of the gantries “comes at a cost to our personal information and we need to protect that information.”

The gantries take snapshots of drivers’ license plates at various points along the Mass Pike, collecting speed and location of vehicles along with date and time stamps, allowing the state to “track people in virtually real time,” Senator Lesser said.

The bill, S. 1936, prevents the state from using that data for anything other than toll collection, and bars the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) from sharing drivers’ information with other state or federal agencies unless a valid warrant has been issued for it.

Senator Lesser made clear that law enforcement needs to be able to do its job, and that there is already a process in place for MassDOT and the State Police to respond to Amber Alerts and other “hot pursuits.”

“As with any other criminal case, if you want to use this information, you need to get a warrant and a judge independent of MassDOT needs to issue that warrant,” Senator Lesser said. “Our constitutional rights and our privacy must be protected.”

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Senator Lesser Tours Substance Abuse Recovery Programs at Liberty Prep, Mill Street

“The first response to substance abuse cannot be a police officer and a jail cell, it must be a recovery coach and a treatment bed,” said Sen. Lesser

SPRINGFIELD — On Monday, Senator Eric P. Lesser visited Liberty Preparatory Academy and the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center, two facilities that are helping those with substance abuse disorders overcome addictions and transition back to sober life.

The visits are part of a month-long effort by Senator Lesser to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and hear from those involved how he can further help to ease the crisis.

“It was incredibly moving and inspiring to meet with people who had taken such tremendous steps to overcome their addiction and rebuild their lives. We must make sure the success we’ve seen here in these programs is replicated across the state,” said Senator Lesser.

Springfield Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick joined Senator Lesser for the tour of Liberty Preparatory Academy, which is a public high school for students with a diagnosed substance abuse disorder.

“It was great to see Senator Lesser take an interest in our recovery program and welcome him to meet with some of the students who are doing better and better each day. We’ve worked hard over the years, and Senator Lesser has been a leader in this fight against opioid abuse. We all need to work together to fight this scourge, and are grateful for his partnership,” said Superintendent Warwick.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi joined Senator Lesser for the tour of the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center on Mill St. The center was established by Sheriff Michael Ashe as a way to divert nonviolent offenders struggling with drug addiction into treatment rather than county jails.

“I want to thank Senator Lesser for recently touring our regional, 139 bed, Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center and treatment facility. I am very proud of the work being done by our staff who specialize in providing the necessary treatment for long term recovery for those suffering from substance use disorders as they re-enter the community. We, at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, have been at the forefront of this effort for over 30 years, utilizing evidenced based treatments and programs with individuals suffering from addictions. I stand with Senator Lesser as we work together to prevent more of our citizens going down this path in the first place and find new opportunities to effectively treat those who fall victim to this deadly disease. Public safety is at the core of our work. Prevention and treatment will save lives and help protect the public,” said Sheriff Cocchi.

The Recovery and Wellness Center is a regional facility that also treats inmates from Worcester, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties. Its success could be measured by how much its participants want to give back: Out of two residents, and one who recently completed the program, that Senator Lesser met, one wants to come back and work for the facility and one would like to become a substance abuse counselor for high school students.

“The first response to substance abuse cannot be a police officer and a jail cell, it must be a recovery coach and a treatment bed. As I’ve said before, we need to expand the number of treatment beds available across Massachusetts, but especially here in Western Mass where we have a shortage. And we need to make sure we educate our children and young adults on the dangers of drug abuse and addiction, and the potential for addiction specific to opioids,” said Senator Lesser.

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.

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Senator Lesser Appointed to Special Committee on Net Neutrality

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser was appointed to a special committee created by the State Senate on Thursday to develop legislation in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules.

Led by Sen. Cynthia Creem, the Special Committee on Net Neutrality and Consumer Protection plans to hold its first hearing on Feb. 6.

“I’m grateful to have a seat on this committee and to help craft our response to the Trump Administration’s dangerous removal of Net Neutrality rules,” said Sen. Lesser. “The Internet has long been an open resource to everyone, and it should remain that way. No company should be able to slow your data speeds on a whim. We must do all we can at the state level to protect users’ access to the Internet.”

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Sens. Michael Barrett, Jamie Eldridge, Barbara L’Italien and Patrick O’Connor were also appointed to the special committee. Sen. Tarr will serve as vice chair.

“This committee will identify and address concerns about the repeal of federal net neutrality regulations,” Sen. Creem said in a statement. “We are particularly mindful that the free flow of information is fundamental to a 21st century competitive marketplace and to a vibrant democracy.”

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

SPRINGFIELD — In response to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s announcement that the City is retaining Scott+Scott, Attorneys at Law, LLP to represent it in litigation against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors which  fueled the opioid epidemic, State Senator Eric P. Lesser reiterated his support for these lawsuits on the state and local level.

Referencing the town of Greenfield’s similar lawsuit, filed in December, Senator Lesser said:

“Thank you Mayor Sarno for having the courage to take this fight on. I am proud that Western Massachusetts continues to lead on this issue, with Springfield and Greenfield fighting to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for peddling powerful painkillers that they knew were highly addictive and potentially deadly.

“Make no mistake: deliberate decisions were made by Big Pharma companies to flood our communities with highly addictive and powerful painkillers. These decisions have devastated families across our state, particularly in Western Massachusetts, and they have left local health and treatment facilities burdened with the consequences.

“Ultimately, the pharmaceutical companies that caused the opioid crisis — one of the worst public health crises in our country’s history — must be held accountable. We are learning more and more about how they marketed these drugs, putting them in the hands of patients knowing full well how addictive and prone to misuse they are. I’m glad Springfield is stepping up to hold 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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Lesser Amendment Expanding Options for Students to Compare College Financial Aid Information Passes Senate

BOSTON — A bill passed by the State Senate today included an amendment filed by Senator Eric P. Lesser which encourages higher education institutions to make financial aid and scholarship information available via mobile devices.

The bill, S. 2247 An Act requiring institutions of higher education to provide uniform financial aid information to accepted applicants, was introduced by Senator Eileen M. Donoghue. It directs colleges and universities to release individual versions of the “Financial Aid Shopping Sheet,” created in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The sheet clearly lays out the total costs of attendance, grants and scholarships offered, and the costs that students and families will be responsible to pay after aid is subtracted from the total costs.

Senator Lesser’s amendment encourages colleges and universities to release this information via mobile apps, which would give students quicker, easier access to this comparison information.

“One of the main problems we hear from students in the college application and loan repayment process is that they did not have a clear understanding of the costs up front. With this bill, anyone who gets accepted to a college in Massachusetts will know how much that diploma will cost so they can compare that to other schools and take the acceptance letter that makes the most financial sense for them,” said Senator Lesser.

“For this tech-savvy generation it only makes sense that this information should be available in as many forms as possible, online and on your phone,” he added.

“This bill represents an inexpensive solution that, starting in the 2019-2020 academic year, would help students find the colleges that will graduate them on time and with as little debt as possible,” said Senator Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell). “Given our knowledge-based economy and the increasing costs of earning a degree, the Commonwealth needs to empower young people and their families with easily digestible data so that students can best position themselves to pursue careers free from unnecessarily burdensome student loans.”

Senator Lesser, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Higher Education and co-chair of the Millennial Caucus, has been vocal on the issue of college costs since joining the Senate in 2015.

Last year, he introduced S. 129, a “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” which puts in place a number of protections for student loan borrowers and requires that loan servicers obtain licenses to operate in the state, subject to their following these protections. Senator Lesser testified on the bill before the Higher Education Committee in July.

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The Opioid Epidemic: ‘We need to double down on our response and do even more in 2018’

In Masslive 1/18/18

Imagine your daughter is addicted to prescription opioids after treating injuries from a car accident. After haggling with insurance companies and hounding state agencies, you have finally secured her a bed in a recovery center — only to be told that the nearest available center is 90 miles east and will only provide a few days of care.

In many cases, parents are relieved when their own children get arrested, because it offers their only hope for detox. This is a disgrace for our commonwealth; we have a moral obligation to fix it.

For two decades, big pharmaceutical companies peddled powerful painkillers, knowing full well their deadly potential. They looked the other way — and profited handsomely — while highly addictive pills flooded our streets, to the point that more than a third of U.S. adults were prescribed opioids by 2015.

Now, we’re witnessing the devastating results: families hollowed out across our country and in Western Mass, where we have felt a disproportionate share of our Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic.

Fortunately, there was a bright spot of news when new data showed the number of overdose deaths in Massachusetts fell 10 percent in 2017.

The reduction is attributed in part to the wide availability of Narcan, an overdose-reversal drug, and to the fact that Massachusetts was the first state to limit the number of opioid pills doctors can prescribe per prescription. Working to implement both those policies has been among the most important work I’ve done in the Senate.

But these gains are modest compared to the scope of the overall problem, which is why we need to double down on our response and do even more in 2018.

First, we must continue to expand the number of treatment beds available, specifically in Western Mass., and give health professionals new tools to require people to receive treatment when they pose a danger to themselves or others. The first response to substance abuse cannot be a police officer and a jail cell, it must be a recovery coach and a treatment bed.

We must also continue to expand Narcan access by allowing pharmacies to stock it and disburse it over-the-counter.

I was happy to see these measures, and many others, included in new legislation proposed by Governor Baker. I’m committed to working collaboratively with local officials and the Baker Administration to see these solutions implemented. But we must do much more.

I have also introduced a bill, S. 543, to strengthen these measures by requiring health insurers to cover medication-assisted treatment and cap the total out-of-pocket co-pays for methadone treatment programs. Insurance companies, which are so rarely willing to pay, should be required to cover this medically necessary treatment.

Alternative pain management techniques, such as acupuncture, should also be explored as alternatives to prescription painkillers. And we must continue to expand opioid addiction education in our schools, to spot and prevent abuse before it’s too late.

Ultimately, the pharmaceutical companies that caused this mess must be held accountable. We are learning more and more about how they knowingly marketed life-threatening products and launched campaigns to convince doctors that these drugs were not as harmful as the research warned, making billions of dollars of profit in the process.

In response, lawsuits are cropping up all over the country, including in Greenfield. I hope these suits are joined by the Attorneys General in Massachusetts and other states across the country.

We will never be able to get back the lives lost or fully repair the families destroyed by this scourge. But the opioid crisis, while daunting and cruel, is solvable if we marshal the will and the focus to fix it.

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State Sen. Eric P. Lesser is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire.

Senator Lesser Named Vice Chair of Transportation Committee

BOSTON — On Wednesday Senate President Harriette L. Chandler named Senator Eric P. Lesser Vice Chair and Senator Joseph A. Boncore the new Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, saying they “will bring strong  leadership” to the committee.

Former Senator Tom McGee, the previous Senate Chair, held the post until he resigned his seat upon winning election to be the Mayor of Lynn. Senator Boncore had served as Vice Chair.

Senator Lesser has served on the Joint Committee on Transportation since joining the Senate in 2015 and has been a leading voice in advocating for the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure.

“I am grateful to President Chandler and my colleagues for putting their trust in me, and I look forward to working alongside Chairman Boncore on an issue that I know is a top priority for his constituents, as well as for mine, and for the entire Commonwealth. Having a high-quality, reliable transportation network is about more than making sure the trains run on time. Our transit system should serve the public’s needs, and this ultimately means ensuring equal access to opportunities and connecting our communities across the Commonwealth,” said Senator Lesser.

Senator Lesser is a long-time advocate for high-speed rail connecting Boston to Springfield. He has also introduced legislation to enable regional ballot initiatives so that communities can raise revenue for transportation improvements, and has written bills to safely integrate autonomous vehicles onto our streets and bring ride-sharing companies into accordance with state law.

Senator Lesser currently serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and as the Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services. He is also a member of the Joint Committees on Elder Affairs, Health Care Financing, High Education and Veterans and Federal Affairs.

“The need for effective and efficient transportation intersects with the need for affordable housing, economic opportunity and social justice,” said Senate President Harriette Chandler. “Our transit systems are the central arteries connecting our Commonwealth’s cities and towns to each other. Senator Boncore and Senator Lesser will bring strong leadership to the challenges we face at a time when transportation is a paramount issue on Beacon Hill and in the minds of everyday commuters.”

As Vice Chair, Senator Boncore took a lead on issues related to MBTA privatization and transit-oriented housing development in Greater Boston.

“I want to thank President Chandler and my colleagues for entrusting me with one of the state’s top fiscal and policy priorities,” said Senator Boncore.  “The Commonwealth’s transportation system is the driver that ensures our economic success. Whether by road, rail or water, our infrastructure connects us to jobs, homes, schools and goods, ensuring continued growth. Still, Massachusetts requires a new revenue mechanism to make necessary investments in our infrastructure to secure a statewide vision for a modern transportation system.”

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Senator Lesser, Rep. Ashe Meet with Longmeadow Select Board and School Committee

LONGMEADOW — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser and Rep. Brian M. Ashe met with Longmeadow’s Select Board and School Committee in a joint meeting to keep them apprised of their work on Beacon Hill and find out how they can further assist the Town of Longmeadow.

The discussion focused on ways for the town to diversify its revenue streams, including the potential offered by Sen. Lesser’s bill, S. 1551, allowing towns to join together to pass regional ballot initiatives that could raise funds and share costs for transportation projects.

Officials also discussed the ongoing dilemma of crumbling concrete in some area homeowners’ foundations, and how the state and local officials can work together to remedy the problem.

“These meetings with local officials are very helpful in setting local priorities and carrying them forward to my work in the State Senate. I am grateful to the Longmeadow Select Board and School Committee for taking the time to meet with me and discuss the important issues Longmeadow is facing. I look forward to continuing our work together on behalf of the residents of Longmeadow,” said Sen. Lesser, Chairman of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee.

“As a Longmeadow resident for the past 25 years and being a former member of the Longmeadow Select Board, this meeting was both personal and professional for me. I would like to thank all in attendance for their commitment and thoughtful questions and comments. Although we have some challenges ahead of us, Longmeadow remains an ideal place to raise a family,” said Rep. Ashe.

The meeting was part of Sen. Lesser’s regular meetings with local leaders of the nine communities he represents to keep them apprised of his work in the State Senate and find out how he can further assist these communities.

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