Author: Ryan Migeed

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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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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Senator Lesser, Rep. Ashe Meet with LG Polito, Local Officials in Hampden

HAMPDEN — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser, Rep. Brian M. Ashe and town officials welcomed Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito to Hampden for a roundtable discussion on the needs of the community.

“We had a productive meeting with Lt. Gov. Polito, and I am grateful that she came out to Western Mass to hear directly from local officials where the gaps are and how state and local government can work together to fill those gaps. We are all committed to making sure our communities in Western Mass are a top priority,” said Sen. Lesser.

“I want to thank Lt. Governor Polito for taking the time to speak with our Hampden officials today about their needs as a community.  This is a great example of how our government can and does work together — putting people first instead of politics,” said Rep. Ashe.

Photos below:

From left to right: Vincent Villamaino, Chairman, Hampden Board of Selectmen; Pam Courtney, Administrative Assistant, Hampden Board of Selectmen; Doug Boyd, Co-Chair of the Hampden Advisory Committee; Senator Eric P. Lesser; Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito; State Rep. Brian Ashe; Rebecca Moriarty, Executive Director of the Hampden Senior Center; Robert Howarth, Hampden Town Moderator; Michael Knapik, Western Mass Regional Director, Office of Governor Charlie Baker.

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Senator Lesser Receives Award for Leadership in Fighting the State’s Opioid Epidemic

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser has received a Special Recognition Award from the Massachusetts Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors for his leadership in fighting the state’s opioid epidemic.

The award was formally announced at the Association’s annual meeting on Friday, January 12 in Westborough.

“I am humbled to receive this award, and proud of the difference we have made in providing greater access to Narcan, which has saved hundreds of lives. But I am also very aware that we have much more to do,” Senator Lesser said. “We need to expand the number of treatment beds available,  invest in alternative pain treatments and ultimately, the pharmaceutical companies that knowingly marketed these life-threatening products need to be held accountable.”

Preliminary numbers for 2017 show that overdose deaths in Massachusetts dropped 10 percent last year. This was due 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.

Senator Lesser could not attend the award ceremony because of a long-standing personal conflict. In lieu, Peter Crumb of Belchertown, a retired substance abuse counselor at Longmeadow High School and a board member of the Association, presented the award to Senator Lesser in his East Longmeadow office. The presentation was recorded in a video played at the ceremony in Westborough:

Watch the video here

“Since his election to the Massachusetts State Senate in 2014, Senator Eric Lesser has been an advocate for those who are fighting and recovering from addiction in the Commonwealth,” Crumb says in the video.

He highlighted Senator Lesser’s work to secure funding for Springfield’s drug court and increase the availability of Narcan, an opiate overdose-reversal drug.

Senator Lesser has been a leader in the fight against the opioid crisis. 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 authored legislation to set up the Massachusetts bulk purchasing program for Narcan, an opiate overdose-reversal drug.

Later this month, he will be visiting addiction treatment facilities and sitting down with high school students to discuss a bill he introduced that requires opioid addiction education in schools.

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Senator Lesser Praises Youth Advocacy in Springfield City Council’s Vote to Raise the Age of Tobacco Sales to 21

SPRINGFIELD — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser praised the efforts of Springfield’s young people in urging the city to raise the age of tobacco sales, saying “advocacy like this makes a difference.”

On Monday night, the Springfield City Council unanimously approved a city ordinance that will ban the sale of tobacco products to people under age 21 after months of lobbying by health advocates and many young activists from the city.

In October, Sen. Lesser met with students from the Mason Square Health Task Force who had come to the State House to advocate for raising the age of tobacco sales.

“For anyone doubting their ability to make a difference, take a look at these young people who raised awareness and got the word out about youth smoking. Thanks to their efforts, and a unanimous vote in the City Council, Springfield will now be raising the tobacco age from 18 to 21. I voted to raise the age statewide when it came up in the Senate last year, and am hopeful we can get another chance to do so this year. Advocacy like this makes a difference!” Sen. Lesser said.

Sen. Lesser is a longtime supporter of a bill introduced by Sen. Jason Lewis, An Act To Protect Youth from the Health Risks of Tobacco and Nicotine Addiction, which would raise the age for tobacco sales statewide to 21.

 

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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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