Author: Ryan Migeed

Senator Lesser “Grateful” that State Loan Financing Authority Has Rescinded Its Membership in National Lobbying Group

SPRINGFIELD — Less than 24 hours after Senator Eric P. Lesser sent a letter, co-signed by 48 House and Senate colleagues, to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) requesting an explanation for their membership in a national student loan lobbying group, MEFA announced that it will leave the organization.

The organization — the National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) — is a trade association for companies that collect student loans, known as servicers. It has been lobbying a receptive federal Department of Education to preempt state laws regulating the student loan servicers. Secretary Betsy DeVos issued an interpretation arguing that it could preempt state laws.

Following MEFA’s announcement, Sen. Lesser issued the following statement:

“I am grateful that MEFA recognized that aligning itself with the Trump Administration and Betsy DeVos’ Education Department is not in the best interests of Massachusetts student loan borrowers. No quasi-public arm of state government should be involved in lobbying to undo state government actions. MEFA made the right decision by leaving NCHER, and I hope it leads to other states’ loan financing agencies — from Maine to Michigan to New Jersey to Pennsylvania — leaving this lobby group as well.

“The servicers should change their behavior even if the federal government doesn’t. What we are seeing is almost exactly the same playbook used by big banks in the run-up to the mortgage crisis that caused the Great Recession. States like Massachusetts passed laws to protect homeowners and crack down on subprime mortgage lenders, but the big banks went around state regulators and lobbied the federal Department of Treasury to preempt state laws. Large national student loan servicers like Navient, which are represented by groups like NCHER, are now doing the same thing by lobbying the Department of Education to preempt state laws protecting student loan borrowers. We’ve seen this movie before and we know what comes next.

“Our students deserve to be protected from loan servicers that are taking advantage of them. And it is not only our right, but our obligation, in the State Legislature to pass consumer protections that defend the residents of Massachusetts from questionable companies and suspect practices.”

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/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Senator Lesser “Grateful” that State Loan Financing Authority Has Rescinded Its Membership in National Lobbying Group

Economic Development Committee Holds Hearing on Gov. Baker’s Development Bill

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Senate and House Chairmen of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, heard testimony from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration on Tuesday regarding his proposed economic development bill.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash reviewed some of the successes of the state’s economic development programming, including MassWorks and other grants that have been awarded to 165 communities across the Commonwealth.

“State and local partnerships such as MassWorks grants have been essential to redevelopments in Western Massachusetts. In order to have a truly strong statewide economy, we must make sure that Western Mass is getting its fair share of investment and attention, especially in ways that are the most helpful such as job training programs,” said Sen. Lesser.

“This hearing was informative, and I am eager to get to work on a proposal that will provide the tools and resources to support growth in Western Massachusetts and across the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Wagner.

Secretary Ash highlighted a new Apprenticeship Tax Credit proposed in Gov. Baker’s bill, H. 4297, An Act enhancing opportunities for all.

The tax credit would fund “learn-while-you-earn” apprenticeships in growing industries such as health care, IT and advanced manufacturing.

There are also a number of measures in the bill designed to redevelop the state’s affordable housing.

The Committee heard testimony from Chrystal Kornegay, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, and representatives from local housing authorities who voiced support for elements of the bill.

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Senator Lesser and Colleagues Send Letter to State Loan Financing Authority Requesting Explanation of Possible State-Funded Lobbying for Student Loan Companies

“We need an explanation now,” said Senator Lesser

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser, along with four dozen colleagues, sent a letter to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority on Wednesday requesting an explanation of funds it has spent that likely helped fund lobbying efforts on behalf of national student loan companies.

According to a report by the American Federation of Teachers, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority — an organization created by the state legislature in 1982 to help state residents afford college — paid $88,646 in membership dues between 2010 and 2017 to the National Council of Higher Education Resources.

This organization, a trade association for companies that collect student loans, has been lobbying the federal Department of Education to preempt state laws regulating the student loan servicers. A draft memo recently circulated at the Department of Education shows the lobbying may have been successful.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued an interpretation, published in the Federal Register, declaring that federal law prohibits state governments from regulating companies that collect student debt on the Education Department’s behalf.

“The Trump Administration, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has repeatedly rolled back protections for student borrowers, siding with for-profit student loan servicers instead of students. We now have troubling evidence that a quasi-public entity in Massachusetts may be aiding these efforts and lobbying against our own state’s right to protect our residents. We need an explanation now,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser.

“We write to you to register our concerns regarding the enclosed report by the American Federation of Teachers asserting that the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) is involved in national lobbying efforts to benefit student loan servicers over the student borrowers whom MEFA is charged with protecting,” the legislators’ letter, signed by both Democrats and Republicans, reads in part.

“It is troubling to us that MEFA, a quasi-public entity which was created by the General Court in 1982 to ‘help Massachusetts students and families access and afford higher education and reach financial goals through education programs, tax-advantaged savings plans, low-cost loans, and expert guidance’ (as stated on its website), may now be helping to fund a national interest group that is lobbying against this same General Court’s efforts to pass meaningful protections for student loan borrowers,” reads another excerpt.

In total, 49 Senators and Representatives signed onto the letter, including Western Mass Senators Anne Gobi, Adam Hinds, Don Humason, Stanley Rosenberg and James Welch, and Representatives Brian Ashe, Carlos Gonzalez, Angelo Puppolo and Jose Tosado.

Read the full letter here.

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/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Senator Lesser and Colleagues Send Letter to State Loan Financing Authority Requesting Explanation of Possible State-Funded Lobbying for Student Loan Companies

Senate Passes Bill to Promote Civics Education, Including Measures Championed by Senator Lesser

Senate also passed bill promoting financial literacy in schools

BOSTON — The State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a bill promoting civics education, including measures that had been sponsored by State Senator Eric P. Lesser.

The bill, S. 2355, An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement, directs the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to ensure that all public schools provide instruction in American history, civics and media literacy, including participation in a civics project that will be a requirement for graduating high school.

The bill also creates a Civics Project Trust Fund and authorizes funding to support civics education projects in schools throughout Massachusetts.

“Civics and news media literacy are critical in an era when we are bombarded by an unprecedented flow of information, from articles to opinions to breaking news and fake news, all delivered to devices in our pockets. As fast as information moves, too many people — especially young people — have felt for too long that our government is not responsive enough, that our politics are not about solving big challenges anymore. Civics education gives people the tools they need to feel empowered and to make a difference,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser.

According to research conducted at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, students who recalled memorable civic education experiences were more likely to vote, to form political opinions and to know campaign issues. Researchers also found that civics education does not lead students to favor one party over another.

Also on Thursday, the Senate passed S. 2343, An Act relative to financial literacy in schools, which also included measures Sen. Lesser had introduced this session.

The bill establishes standards for students from kindergarten to grade 12 to learn about loans and interest, credit card debt, rights and responsibilities of buying a home, balancing a checkbook, state and federal taxes, and planning for retirement. The topics can be incorporated into existing mathematics, social studies or other class curricula.

“A lack of financial and civics knowledge was one of the primary complaints we heard from young people during our Millennial roundtable discussions,” said Sen. Lesser, referencing the conversations Senators held with young people across the state in 2016. “Balancing a checkbook, building credit, using credit cards wisely and planning for retirement are all important tools for managing your finances and preparing for your future — especially when you have to factor in student loans. Our young people need to be prepared for these rites of passage.”

Both bills now go to the State House of Representatives for consideration.

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Senator Lesser Receives “Legislative Leadership Award”

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser was honored on Monday by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston with one of two “Legislative Leadership Awards.”

The JCRC traditionally honors one Senator and one Representative with “Legislative Leadership Awards” each year. House Ways and Means Chair Jeffrey Sanchez of Boston was recognized along with Sen. Lesser.

Attorney General Maura Healey was also honored with an “Excellence in Leadership Award,” and Lon Povitch, Chief Legal Counsel to Governor Charlie Baker, received an “Executive Leadership Award.”

“We are honored to be presenting an award to a remarkable public servant—Senator Eric Lesser. He has demonstrated we must unite in our commitment to act on an urgent agenda; from civil rights to human services, economic opportunity supporting the vibrant MA-Israel partnership, and the protection of democratic values,” stated Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC. “A well-functioning society and a responsive government would not be possible without outstanding public servants like him.”

“It is humbling to receive this award, and I am grateful to my colleagues, Attorney General Healey, Chairman Sanchez and Lon Povich for their service. I am also grateful to the Western Mass Jewish community, which has built a number of organizations that serve the common good,  from Rachel’s Table, which feeds thousands of hungry people across Western Mass, to the Springfield JCC, where my daughters go to preschool,” said Sen. Lesser. “What makes JCRC so unique is that it works to make Massachusetts a better place, not only for Jewish people but for all people. Its agenda is a universal agenda of justice and peace, and I look forward to continuing our work together toward these goals in our communities.”

Sen. Lesser was introduced by Ronda Parish, President of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.

The awards recognize the leadership of public officials in areas that reflect JCRC’s legislative priorities, including promoting and protecting democratic norms, defending civil rights and championing economic opportunity and consumer protection.

The awards were presented at JCRC’s annual Legislative Reception held at the State House.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Bill Protecting Puppies and Kittens

BOSTON — On Thursday the State Senate voted to pass a bill improving conditions in the sale of dogs and cats, and ensuring that puppies and kittens are bred and sold in safe and healthy environments.

The bill, S.1155, An Act relative to protecting puppies and kittens, applies safety and breeding standards to protect pets and pet owners. It prohibits the sale of puppies and kittens younger than eight weeks old, increasing the likelihood that they will grow to be healthy dogs and cats, and outlines a process for a veterinarian to declare an animal suffering from a significant adverse health condition “unfit for sale.”

“We all love our pets, and no one should bring home a brand-new puppy or kitten only to find out that they are chronically ill. It’s not fair to the pet owner but it is also unfair to the pet that was raised in unhealthy conditions,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser. “This bill, written in coordination with animal advocates, breeders and pet stores, will keep our pets safer and healthier and protect consumers.”

The bill also strengthens the state’s “Puppy Lemon Law” to give pet owners more options if they unknowingly purchase a sick pet. Remedies available now include the exchange of the animal or a refund and reimbursement for reasonable veterinary fees. The bill also sets forth a procedure for a seller to contest these demands.

“As an animal lover, pet owner and occasional small scale breeder, I am deeply aware of the emotional challenges for families when a pet falls ill, as well as the need to protect the health and safety of young animals,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), lead sponsor of the bill. “This bill is the result of extensive discussion with both breeders and animal rights activists to protect puppies, kittens and pet owners across the Commonwealth.”

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Senator Lesser, Sheriff Cocchi and Mayor Kos Read to Fairview Elementary Students for “Celebrity Read Aloud”

CHICOPEE — Senator Eric P. Lesser, Sheriff Nick Cocchi and Mayor Richard Kos all read to different classrooms at Fairview Elementary School in Chicopee as part of Link to Libraries’ annual “Celebrity Read Aloud” day.

Sen. Lesser read “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm to Miss Picard’s third grade class.

Sen. Lesser read “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Social Media Privacy Protections

BOSTON — On Thursday the State Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill protecting the personal social media accounts of students and employees.

The bill, S. 2320, An Act relative to social media privacy protection, prevents employers and schools from requesting and requiring access to the personal social media accounts of applicants, employees, and students as a condition of acceptance, employment or participation in school activities.

“Technology has changed how we communicate, but those communications should still have the protections of privacy. Through privacy settings, social media users can decide who to share their thoughts, photos and conversations with, which is essentially no different than a private phone call. No school or employer should be allowed to cross that barrier between people’s public and private lives as a threshold for inclusion in school events or as a basis for employment,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser, who is a member of the Special Senate Committee on Cyber Security Readiness.

Sen. Lesser co-sponsored the bill, which includes exceptions for legal inquiries requiring access to social media accounts. Under current law, these inquiries would still be required to follow due process.

“I am proud to have bipartisan support among my Senate colleagues to increase online privacy protections for students and employees across the Commonwealth,” said Senate Majority Leader Creem (D-Newton), who sponsored the bill. “We would never allow employers or schools to read our diaries or journals, open our mail or rifle through our personal photo albums. The private communications and information we store online in our personal social media accounts deserve the same legal protections.”

More than 25 states have already enacted legislation addressing this issue, and bills on this topic are pending in many other jurisdictions. This is the third session in which the Senate has voted favorably on this bill.

The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives for consideration.

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Senator Lesser on Student Walkouts: “I Hear Them, and I Hope the Rest of Our Country’s Leaders Hear Them.”

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser offered his support to high school students across Massachusetts — and the country — who staged school walkouts on Wednesday to mark the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and demand action on gun violence.

“We stand in solidarity with today’s students. I hear them, and I hope the rest of our country’s leaders hear them as well. The time for action to protect our schools and our children from gun violence is long overdue, and these young people are leading the charge to make sure we take that action. There’s never been a great change or social movement in our society that hasn’t been led by young people. From Parkland to Springfield, young people are standing up to make a difference in their community — and their impact is being felt around the country,” said Sen. Lesser.

The peaceful walkouts were planned by students in coordination with school administration officials.

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Senator Lesser, New Senate Chair of Library Caucus, Advocates for Library Funding at State House

BOSTON —  Speaking before hundreds of librarians from across the state on Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser advocated for increased funding for public libraries and told them “you are at the front lines of expanding that circle of opportunity and equity for all of our Commonwealth’s residents.”

Earlier this year, Sen. Lesser was named Senate Chair of the Legislative Library Caucus, a group of legislators who make library funding a specific concern and priority.

Among the public libraries’ priorities are increased funding for technology upgrades to bring high-speed internet access to all public libraries.

Nearly 30,000 people in Massachusetts rely on public libraries for internet access. Many communities in Western Massachusetts in particular still lack access to broadband internet.

“We know that free and open access to information is the great equalizer in our society. No matter what station you come from, no matter what family you’re born into, no matter what your circumstances are in life, if you have the same access to information as everybody else, then all of a sudden the playing field starts to get just a little more level,” said Sen. Lesser.

“In an era of overflowing and unlimited information, the role that each of you play as librarians, as custodians of that information and as a trusted access point for people to information is more important than ever before,” he added.

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