Author: Ryan Migeed

Western Mass Senators Will Advocate for the Regional Needs of the Hampshire, Franklin & Worcester Senate District

BOSTON – Today, western Massachusetts-based State Senators Adam G. Hinds (D- Pittsfield), Eric P. Lesser (D- Longmeadow), Anne M. Gobi (D- Spencer) and Donald F. Humason, Jr. (R- Westfield) announced that they will collectively advocate for the regional needs and policy priorities of the communities within the Hampshire, Franklin & Worcester Senate District for the remainder of the formal legislative session.

Due to the resignation of Senator Stan Rosenberg, the two dozen communities will be without representation in the Massachusetts Senate, effective at 5 p.m. tonight.  The 2017-2018 formal legislative session will conclude on July 31, 2018, and many key bills will be debated during the next three months, including the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget.

The four Senators issued the following statement:

“We wish to assure the residents, local and regional officials in the Hampshire, Franklin & Worcester Senate District that we will work together to represent your needs and priorities on Beacon Hill.  We will work collectively to advance your agenda and protect your interests for the remainder of this legislative session.  It is the right thing to do for western Massachusetts and to keep our region strong.”

Further, the Senators secured a commitment from Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D- Worcester) that she will help them protect the interests of Rosenberg’s former District:

“The Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District will continue to have a voice on Beacon Hill. Under the leadership of Senators Hinds, Lesser, Gobi and Humason, this body will continue to stand for the legislation important to residents. As Senate President, I add my voice to theirs, and pledge to work with my colleagues in local, state and federal government to advocate for the issues vital to this Western Massachusetts District.”

Members of Senator Rosenberg’s staff will continue to be available, both locally and in the State House, for casework inquiries and to provide guidance to the Senate on pending policy matters until the 2019-2020 legislative session begins in January.  However, policy work such as sponsoring and filing bills, home rule petitions, amendments and participating in Senate debate and roll call votes cannot be done by staff.  Senators Hinds, Lesser, Gobi and Humason will collaborate to ensure key priorities for the Hampshire, Franklin & Worcester District are presented and considered by the Massachusetts Senate for the remainder of this term.

The Hampshire, Franklin & Worcester Senate District is comprised of twenty four communities:  Amherst, Bernardston, Colrain, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Leverett, Leyden, Montague, New Salem, Northampton, Northfield, Orange, Pelham, Royalston, Shutesbury, South Hadley, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell and Whately.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass BRAVE Act, Expanding State Benefits for Veterans

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass the “BRAVE Act,” assuring Massachusetts’ status as first in the nation for veterans’ services.

The bill, S.2454, An Act relative to veterans’ benefits, rights, appreciation, validation and enforcement, expands benefits and increases access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military and their families, including expanding property tax breaks for veterans and creating reserved parking for veterans at local government buildings, among other provisions.

“Our veterans and their families deserve our gratitude and our support after giving us their devotion and years of service. These are meaningful actions we took to support our veterans, particularly those who have fallen into difficult circumstances,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser.

Among other measures, the bill grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes.

To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years. It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.

The BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to receive to adequately provide for a dignified funeral.

“This omnibus veterans legislation encompasses some of the very best ideas presented by my colleagues in the legislature and the veterans of the Commonwealth to assist veterans and their families with employment protections, tax exemptions, burial expenses, court programs, medical care, and also continues to recognize those who serve and who have served,” said Senator Rush, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, sponsor of the bill. “We want to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation in providing for our veterans, men and women in uniform, and their families. This legislation goes a long way in accomplishing this goal.”

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

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Consumer Protections in Response to Equifax Breach, Student Debt Laws

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a credit protection bill that gives consumers more rights to protect their financial security in the wake of the 2017 Equifax data breach.

The breach exposed the personal data of 147 million Americans to the risk of identity theft. In response, Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against Equifax alleging that the company knew or should have known that a serious security vulnerability existed but failed to patch or upgrade its software to eliminate it, according to a report.

The bill passed by the Senate, S.2455, An Act removing fees for security freezes and disclosures of consumer credit reports, requires credit agencies to provide five years of free credit monitoring to customers if their agency has been breached. It also makes credit freezes free and requires that consumers be notified and consent to their credit reports being pulled.

“Consumers need protections for the sensitive financial data they entrust to companies like Equifax. They should not be held responsible financially or otherwise when a data breach leaves them vulnerable to identity theft. This is a particular concern for the elderly, who rely on a limited income and expect their financial information to be secure with credit agencies,” said Sen. Lesser.

The Senate also passed S. 2266, An Act to prevent bureaucratic overreach in the collection of student debt, to protect students from losing their professional licenses because they had to default on their student debt.

Under current law, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) and the Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corporation – a former loan guarantor that now operates as American Student Assistance, a national nonprofit – can request that a borrower’s state-issued professional or occupational certificate, registration or license be suspended, revoked or cancelled for default on educational loans made or administered by either entity.

“Student loans are already the only type of loan that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. To take away borrowers’ means of paying those loans back — by working under the professional licenses they earned with their education — is unfair and counterproductive. I am glad that the Senate took this step, following the Senate’s passage of the Student Loan Bill of Rights, to give needed protections to student loan borrowers,” said Sen. Lesser.

“Taking away a borrower’s ability to engage in their profession does not put them in a better position to be able to repay the loan,” said Sen. William N. Brownsberger, lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

2266 will now go to the State House of Representatives for consideration, while S. 2455 must be reconciled with a similar bill already passed in the House.

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Senator Lesser Welcomes Business Leaders to State House, Gives Update on Major Bills

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser provided local business leaders with a legislative update at their annual Beacon Hill Summit on Wednesday.

Highlighting four major pieces of legislation, Sen. Lesser spoke about the economic development bill moving through the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which he chairs; the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center funding bill; the Student Loan Bill of Rights and progress on East-West Rail.

“The continued engagement of our business community is so important to bringing resources back to Western Mass. It is my top priority in much of the work we do, from East-West rail to the Economic Development bill, to make sure that state resources are shared equitably around the state, that Western Mass is getting its fair share. Having our local business leaders come to the State House to be visible and share their concerns and their needs is immensely helpful in that effort,” said Sen. Lesser.

The summit was hosted by Sen. James Welch and Rep. Michael Finn. Nancy Creed, President of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, helped organize the event.

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Narcan bulk purchase program needs a refill

In Masslive 4/23/18

By State Sen. Eric P. Lesser and State Rep. Andy X. Vargas

There’s no sugar-coating it: Massachusetts is facing another emergency in our state’s fight against the opioid epidemic.

Two years after the state legislature created a bulk purchasing trust fund to subsidize first responders’ purchases of the overdose antidote naloxone, the fund has dried up. Now, a box of two doses of Narcan, a brand of naloxone, has nearly doubled in price from $40 to $71.

This price is still lower than the market sticker price, but the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund has allowed cities and towns to provide life-saving doses to first responders at a fraction of that cost. This is exactly the wrong time for the fund to run out of money.

The opioid crisis has taken a devastating turn for the worse with a growing black market trade in opioids cut with fentanyl, a drug so powerful that first responders say two doses of naloxone are not enough to save someone from an overdose.

It is now a much bigger problem that requires a bigger solution. That is why we are proposing in this year’s budget negotiations not just a refill of the state’s Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Trust Fund, but an expansion. In addition to cities and towns, organizations that already contract with the Department of Public Health should be able to buy doses of Naloxone at a reduced price.

Nonprofit organizations like addiction treatment centers, halfway houses, homeless shelters and others who regularly serve people struggling with addiction should have access to this life-saving drug.

We are glad that Attorney General Maura Healey’s office plans to provide another $47,000 in settlement funds for the Narcan Bulk Purchasing Program. It’s time to add further resources to the Trust Fund to keep the cost down for our first responders and organizations that provide addiction treatment.

Fatal overdoses in the state are finally dropping, from 2,155 confirmed and estimated deaths in 2016 to 1,977 in 2017. This is thanks in large part to the availability of Narcan to first responders, made possible by the Bulk Purchasing Program.

You don’t step off the gas when you’re closing in on the finish line — and we should not abandon this program just as we are making progress on reducing opioid-related deaths.

It is important to note that this is not only a budget issue; it is a public health issue.

This crisis touches all of us, whether it’s our neighbor whose child died of an overdose or our doctor who wrote a prescription that sparked an addiction.

The damage of this man-made disaster is especially severe in Gateway Cities, several of which we represent.

The Haverhill Police Department, where Rep. Vargas is from, was one of the biggest purchasers of naloxone last year.

The City of Chicopee, which Sen. Lesser represents, also participates in the bulk purchasing program.

Much more must be done to support those struggling with addiction and their families. This includes more resources for education for young people on the perils of new drugs and the threat of addiction. It requires a larger investment in sober homes and treatment beds across the state, including those provided by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department at the Western Massachusetts Recovery and Wellness Center and the Essex County Sheriff Department’s Detox Units.

But continuing our commitment to the Naloxone Bulk Purchasing Program is an important start.

We urge our colleagues to make this life-saving program a budget priority. If we’re serious about placing people into treatment, the first step is keeping them alive.
No one should have to live in fear that a relapse — while they are working hard to get better — could end their life. Narcan remains the single best solution to eliminating that possibility.

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Eric P. Lesser, of Longmeadow, is senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District, and serves as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies. His legislation helped create the state’s Narcan bulk purchase program in 2015. Andy X. Vargas is a Haverhill native and serves as the State Representative for the 3rd Essex District.

Senator Lesser Votes to Secure Nearly $8.5M in State Aid for Roads and Bridges in Springfield, Chicopee and Surrounding Communities

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted Wednesday for a state road repair package that would bring nearly $8.5 million in state aid for local roads and bridges to the nine communities he represents, including $3,682,135 for the City of Springfield.

The bill approved by the Senate appropriates $200 million in Chapter 90 reimbursements for cities and towns each year for the next three years, including:

  • Belchertown: $627,149
  • Chicopee: $1,334,849
  • East Longmeadow: $580,792
  • Granby: $278,714
  • Hampden: $257,102
  • Longmeadow: $473,389
  • Ludlow: $699,828
  • Springfield: $3,682,135
  • Wilbraham: $547,510

“This funding is critical to rebuilding our roads and bridges. The new three-year funding approach will allow communities to better plan how they invest these funds, enabling them to complete important infrastructure projects because the funding will be predictable and consistent,” said Sen. Lesser, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The legislation will now be reconciled with a version passed by the State House of Representatives before going to Gov. Charlie Baker for final approval.

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Senate Passes Senator Lesser’s Bill to Protect Student Loan Borrowers

Bill creates a new licensing process for student loan servicers in the Division of Banks and empowers state officials to investigate and fine loan servicers

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass the “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” giving greater protections to student loan borrowers in disputes with companies servicing their loans.

The bill, S.2380, An Act establishing a student loan bill of rights, requires student loan servicers to be licensed companies with the state Division of Banks, and empowers state officials to investigate the servicers and take action against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws.

The bill also supports the ongoing work of Attorney General Maura Healey’s Student Loan Assistance Unit by establishing a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office, who will lead efforts respond to complaints from student loan borrowers and help them understand their rights.

“A college degree has never cost so much. As a result, students are taking on substantial debt, and they are being taken advantage of by servicers who use deceptive practices and wrongly steer them into costly repayment plans. While the Trump Administration, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, continues to side with large for-profit student loan servicers and strip away protections for student loan borrowers, we in Massachusetts are standing up to protect our residents from predatory student loan companies,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow), lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

“As public officials, it is our duty to ensure fair and appropriate lending – especially in the student loan industry,” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “This legislation ensures that Massachusetts residents receive robust consumer protections and that the student loan industry is given the proper level of oversight. I want to thank Senator Lesser for his leadership on this issue.”

“Taking on abuses in the student loan industry has long been a priority of my office. That’s why, in 2015, we created a Student Loan Assistance Unit to help borrowers with their student loans,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “I thank Senate President Chandler, Senator Lesser and the Senate for providing new resources and tools to protect Massachusetts students and families.”

Under the bill, student loan servicers would have to apply for licenses from the state, which the Commissioner of Banks could revoke if the servicer is engaged in abusive practices such as overcharging students or steering them into costlier repayment plans to make higher profits.

Student loan servicers that break state licensing requirements or take advantage of students could be fined and forced to repay student borrowers under the bill.

The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives, where Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster) is the lead sponsor of the House companion bill.

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Senator Lesser Applauds New Jersey State Loan Financing Authority for Leaving National Lobbying Group

SPRINGFIELD — Following the announcement today that the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority has cut ties with the National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER), a lobbying group for student loan servicers, Senator Eric P. Lesser issued the following statement:

“I am glad that the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority is the latest state student loan agency, after Massachusetts’, to cut ties with NCHER, which is helping President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as they gut protections for student loan borrowers. Membership in NCHER is not in the best interests of student borrowers, and no arm of state government should be involved in lobbying against that very state’s efforts to pass common-sense student loan protections. I hope other states join ranks with Massachusetts and New Jersey and take a stand in support of student borrowers.”

On March 28, Senator 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 NCHER.

The next day, MEFA withdrew its membership from NCHER, which has been lobbying a receptive federal Department of Education to preempt state laws regulating the student loan servicers.

At the time, Senator Lesser said, “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.”

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Senator Lesser, Rep. Higgins to Unveil Student Loan Bill of Rights Ahead of Senate Vote on Wednesday

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Natalie Higgins will unveil their Student Loan Bill of Rights ahead of the Senate vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Designed to protect student borrowers from predatory student loan servicing companies, S.2380, An Act establishing a student loan bill of rights, empowers state officials to investigate servicers and take action against those that violate the state’s banking and consumer protection laws.

Sen. Lesser and Rep. Higgins will discuss further measures in the bill and take questions. They will be joined by students and organizers from Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), who can speak to the bill’s importance from a personal perspective.

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Senate Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

Bill rewrote mandatory minimums and addressed crimes committed by young people to prevent school-to-prison pipeline, among other measures

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate on Wednesday to pass a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that works to reduce recidivism and divert minors away from incarceration and toward rehabilitation, among other measures.

“Many factors influence who goes to prison, beyond something as simple as a routine traffic stop. From the number of public defenders available to serve the accused to the number of clinic beds available for those who need substance abuse treatment instead of jail time, there are inequalities built into the system and they have long needed a fix,” said Senator Lesser. “This bill took that step, to make our justice system more just, and I am grateful to our local law enforcement, public defenders, advocates and District Attorneys for their input in this ongoing effort.”

The bill, S. 2371 An Act relative to criminal justice reform, strengthens protections for public safety officers in addition to improving prison conditions such as reducing the use of solitary confinement. Among some signature elements of the bill, reforms include expanding judges’ discretion in setting bail amounts and lowering fines and fees in an effort to help defendants get back on their feet and transition successfully back into society.

The bill also strengthens sentencing on the trafficking of opioids such as fentanyl, which has emerged as a leading and dangerous cause of the worsening of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. It designates all federally scheduled opioids as class A drugs, triggering stricter trafficking penalties.

The compromise bill has already passed the State House of Representatives and now goes to the Governor’s desk for signature.

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