Author: Ryan Migeed

Sen. Lesser Meets With C-SPAN Documentary Competition Participants at Baird Middle School

Sen. Eric P. Lesser visited Baird Middle School in Ludlow Dec. 7, to be interviewed by students are participating in C-SPAN’S Annual Student Video Documentary Competition.

“The students I met through this video project impressed me not only with their well-researched questions, but also with their enthusiasm for civic engagement, both at the local and national level,” Sen. Lesser said. “As a state legislator I’m confident that our Commonwealth’s future is in good hands.”

The annual C-SPAN competition encourages students to think critically about issues that affect their communities and country. Last year, Baird students received Honorable mention in the National Competition for their video titled “Common Core,” about the education policies that affect Common Core standards.

Mass. Narcan Bulk Purchasing Program Launches, Aided By Sen. Lesser’s Legislation

Sen. Eric P. Lesser announced that effective immediately, cities and towns across the Commonwealth can order naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug commonly known as Narcan, at a discounted price through a statewide bulk purchasing program.

“Narcan is an indispensable tool in combating the opioid epidemic in our Commonwealth,” Sen. Lesser said. “This bulk purchasing program will allow more of our police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders to administer this drug, and help save lives in the process.”

“The use of naloxone has saved lives in Springfield and across Massachusetts, and is one of our state’s greatest success stories in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” said DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel. “Thanks to the legislature and Senator Lesser’s legislation to create the bulk purchasing trust fund, this effort to lower the cost of naloxone will allow Western Massachusetts municipalities, first responders, and those most likely to witness overdoses to be more prepared and equipped to save lives.”

“This discounted rate for naloxone is essential for first responders statewide who are increasingly responding to overdoses and need to administer this life-saving drug. We are pleased to announce the immediate implementation of this critical program with the Department of Public Health and thank Senator Lesser for his continued advocacy to ensure that our cities and towns are equipped to fight the opioid epidemic,” said Attorney General Maura Healey.

Healey’s office negotiated an agreement in September with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Narcan, to pay $325,000 into the trust fund supporting the program. These funds were added to the $100,000 already allocated to the program by the Massachusetts Legislature in the 2016 state budget.

The Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase program allows any state agency, municipality or municipal first responder agency to purchase naloxone at the cost negotiated between the Commonwealth and the wholesaler. First responder agencies will be eligible to purchase naloxone at a deeply discounted rate of $20 per dose.

In January, Senator Lesser filed a bill that served as a blueprint for the Senate’s proposal to establish the bulk-purchasing program announced today. He also introduced a bill, passed into law through an amendment to the Senate budget, that would close the pharmacy shopping loophole by reducing the length of time pharmacies must report the prescriptions of highly addictive narcotics from 7 days to 24 hours.

Nearly 1,300 people in Massachusetts died of an unintentional opiate-related overdose in 2014, representing a nearly 60 percent increase since 2012. Opioids now kill more people in Massachusetts than car accidents and guns combined.

The number of opioid overdose-related fatalities in Western Massachusetts would be 13 to 14 times higher if not for Narcan’s role, according to Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan.

More information on the bulk purchasing program, including procedures for interested cities and towns, is available at www.mass.gov/dph/naloxone.

Sen. Eric P. Lesser Promotes “Toys for Tots” Drive at Nathan Bill’s in Memory of Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan

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Op-ed: Fighting Hunger in Western Massachusetts

In MassLive 11/20/15

This Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful to live in a vibrant, prosperous state and nation. Yet despite the abundance all around us, there are still too many children in our community who are going to bed without dinner. This is a vital challenge we must work together to solve.

Unfortunately, there is particular need in Western Massachusetts, where the hunger rate is higher than the state average. More than 210,000 people in Western Massachusetts struggle to have an adequate food supply, according to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which provides food assistance to 15,000 local residents each week. One out of every five children in Hampden County has uncertain access to the food they need to live a healthy lifestyle.

Hunger is not easy to see even among our neighbors and friends. Many families are only one illness, accident or lost job away from having enough healthy food. One-third of households needing help, for example, have at least one working adult, but still do not earn enough to make ends meet. More than half must choose between paying for food and other living costs, including utilities, gas, rent, mortgage or medical care.

This problem is entirely preventable. Through smart policies, we can ensure that all families have access to adequate meals during hard times, while supporting our local agricultural economy in the process.

A strong first step is to continue supporting our local food banks, which play a vital role in providing readily accessible resources during hard times. In the Senate, I co-sponsored a successful funding increase for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides vital support to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and similar organizations. I also co-sponsored a measure funding the Massachusetts Food Trust Program, which ensures that citizens have access to quality food in urgent circumstances.

Fostering partnerships between local food growers and nearby residents also helps fight hunger, while promoting local agriculture in the process. For this reason, I co-sponsored funding for Massachusetts “Buy Local” groups, which generate new customers for our local farmers and also provide communities with fresh local food options. Many local farms in Hampden and Hampshire Counties participate in this program.

I also support our local farmers’ markets, as well as our community supported agriculture programs, where people can get help buying shares of a local farm harvest. In addition, innovative programs like the School Sprouts Educational Gardens help show our children that it’s possible to make healthy food choices even when resources are scarce.

Rachel’s Table, Loaves and Fishes Kitchen, the Springfield Rescue Mission, Project Bread, Friends of the Homeless, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Mayflower Marathon and many other hunger-fighting efforts further help those among us struggling to keep food on the table.

Together, we can and must ensure that one of the most basic necessities of life is accessible to all families, both during the holiday season and at all other times of the year. I’m proud to champion those efforts at the Statehouse.

Eric P. Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District.

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Food Banks and Related Organizations: Donation Information

The Food Bank of Western Mass
By Mail: The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
PO Box 160 Hatfield, MA 01038
Attn: Development Department
By Phone: 413-247-9738 x108
Online: https://www.foodbankwma.org/donate/one-time-donation/

Open Pantry Community Services
By Mail: P.O. Box 5127, Springfield, MA 01101-5127.
By Phone: (413) 737-5354
Online: http://openpantry.org/donate.php

Springfield Rescue Mission
By Mail: 19 Bliss Street, P.O. Box 9045, Springfield, MA, 01102-9045
By Phone: (413) 732-0808
Online: https://www.hope4springfield.org/donate-online

Project Bread
By Mail: 145 Border Street, East Boston, MA 02128-1903
By Phone: (617)-723-5000
Online: http://www.projectbread.org/ways-to-give

Friends of the Homeless
By Mail: 755 Worthington Street Springfield, MA 01105
By Phone: (413) 732-3069
Online: https://www.fohspringfield.org/index.php/ways-help/donate/

Sen. Lesser Votes with Senate to Pass Bill Toughening Penalties for Fentanyl Trafficking

Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the Massachusetts Senate today to pass a bill toughening penalties for the trafficking of fentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid analgesic that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

“Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or cocaine, and is becoming an alarming contributor to the opioid crisis in our Commonwealth,” Sen. Lesser said. “It also poses deadly risks to any first responders, healthcare workers and residents who come into contact with it. This bill could not be more timely, and I’m happy to support its passage in the Senate.”

The bill, supported by Attorney General Maura Healey and a coalition of law enforcement and first responders from across the state, enforces a prison sentence of up to 20 years when the amount of fentanyl being trafficked is over ten grams, and determines penalties based on the amount of fentanyl being trafficked.

The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that from late 2013 through 2014, several states have reported spikes in fentanyl-related overdose deaths, for a total of over 700 deaths attributable to fentanyl over this time period. It reports a significant increase in fentanyl drug seizures across the country during the same period.

Massachusetts had the second-highest number of fentanyl-related seizures of any state in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC warns that fentanyl poses significant health risks when absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled, posing a significant danger to public health workers, first responders and law enforcement personnel.

Massachusetts has confirmed 1,089 opioid overdose deaths in 2014, which represents a 63 percent increase since 2012 and a 20 percent increase since 2013.

Sen. Lesser Votes to Pass Legislation Supporting Mass. Veterans

Sen. Eric P. Lesser voted with the Senate today to pass several bills aimed at protecting Massachusetts veterans.

“As the son of a veteran, I have a personal appreciation for the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make to protect our safety,” Sen. Lesser said. “These measures uphold the honor of that sacrifice and demonstrate our appreciation for their rich contributions to our communities.”

The bills include:

An Act relative to the false representation of military status (Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield)

Known as the “Stolen Valor Act,” this bill makes it illegal to fraudulently represent oneself as a veteran or active service member in order to gain financial or other benefits. Those who commit this crime would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor and would be punished with no more than one year imprisonment and/or a $1,000 fine.

An Act providing free park access to Purple Heart Recipients (Rep. Vega, D-Holyoke)

Allows free state park access to Purple Heart recipients.

An Act relative to the removal of veterans, police and fire, commemorative flag holders

Prohibits individuals from removing from a grave any American flag, veteran’s grave marker, metal plaque, veteran’s commemorative flag holder or commemorative flag holder representing service in both the police and fire department.

An Act relative to veterans’ grave markers (Rep. Frost, R-Auburn, and Sen. Moore, D-Millbury)

Penalizes with a $5,000 fine any individual who attempts to sell or knowingly accept veterans’ grave markers.

An Act providing further penalties for intentional loss or damage to a gravestone or other gravemarker (Rep. Smola, R-Warren)

Requires anyone who damages a gravestone to pay restitution to the owner of the property damaged, destroyed, mutilated, defaced, inured or removed.

The bills, passed by both branches of the Legislature, now head to Governor Baker’s desk for his signature.

Sen. Lesser is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans & Federal Affairs and published an op-ed in June explaining the high priority he places on issues affecting veterans and their families.

Sen. Eric Lesser Visits With Home Health Patient and Healthcare Workers to Highlight National Home Care Month

Sen. Eric P. Lesser visited the home of Longmeadow resident Maurice Cotton Nov. 16 to raise awareness around issues related to home care services for the elderly.

“As the elderly population in our Commonwealth continues to grow, home health clinicians and aides play an important role by helping people remain in the safest and most familiar setting: their own homes,” said Sen. Lesser, who is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs.

In an October op-ed, Sen. Lesser argued for the need to better support senior citizen services, including reimbursement for in-home care, in Western Massachusetts. Improving pay and protections for home healthcare workers, who often receive very low wages and insufficient training, is also an important priority.

“It’s our solemn obligation to ensure that all members of our community age with dignity. Everyone has a role to play, including our policy-makers at the State House,” he wrote.

Nationally, more than 11 million Americans receive home health care, according to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. In Massachusetts, roughly 23,000 people receive home health services through the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program, also known as MassHealth, and more than 110,000 receive services reimbursed through Medicare.

Sen. Eric Lesser Meets with Model Congress Students at East Longmeadow High School

Sen. Eric P. Lesser visited East Longmeadow High School on Nov. 16 to discuss the importance of youth involvement and the political process.

“It’s always inspiring to see young people excited about our political process. My interest in public service began in high school, so it’s exciting to see these students get involved at such a young age,” Sen. Lesser said.

Sen. Lesser’s visit came as the students were preparing for the Model Congress competition, to be held January 8-9, 2016 at American International College in Springfield.

Sen. Lesser spoke about his experiences as the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate, and offered advice on getting involved in the political process at both the state and national level.

Sen. Eric Lesser Helps Secure Approval of Drug Court in Springfield

Sen. Eric P. Lesser today announced that the Executive Office of the Trial Court has committed to establishing a Drug Court in the City of Springfield in 2016.

Support for the new Drug Court came as a result of a concerted effort led by Sen. Lesser, the Pioneer Valley Project, and other local officials and community leaders, including the Springfield legislative delegation.

The commitment was communicated in writing by Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence.

“This new Drug Court will give our judges and law enforcement officers an important tool to provide the best possible treatment options to those struggling with substance abuse and addiction,” Sen. Lesser said. “Drug Courts also help save money by keeping more of our citizens out of prisons and reducing the chance that they will be arrested in the future.”

Drug Courts help address underlying issues of drug and alcohol addiction through intensive probation supervision, regular drug testing and various therapy options.  They are estimated to produce cost savings ranging from $3,000 to $13,000 per person by reducing prison costs and revolving-door arrests.

“Until now the closest drug court was located in Greenfield,” Sen. Lesser said. “It’s important for those needing treatment to have local access to these essential services.”

Sen. Lesser’s efforts to secure a Drug Court in Springfield began in May, when he filed a budget amendment that sought $500,000 in funds for the court’s establishment. While the amendment was unsuccessful, Lesser later voted with the Senate to secure a $229,651 increase in funding for specialty courts, which includes drug courts.

Lesser also voted for a successful measure in the Legislature’s supplemental budget passed in late October, which allocated $300,000 to help Trial Courts identify gaps in the criminal justice system for individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders.

The announcement for the new Springfield Drug Court came after Sen. Lesser’s office met with Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence and Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey in late September, providing a letter of support from Sen. Lesser and the Western Massachusetts legislative delegation.

The Pioneer Valley Project, a Springfield-based community organizing group, helped arrange the meeting after spending months rallying community support for the new Springfield Drug Court. The group also presented letters of support from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni and Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe, Jr.

“We are pleased and impressed with the level of community support and engagement around the founding of a Drug Court in Springfield,” Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence and Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey wrote in their letter to Sen. Lesser.

“We’re pleased that a drug court will be coming to Springfield, the largest city in Western Massachusetts,” Pioneer Valley Project director Tara Parrish said. “We know that incarceration does not address addiction.  Treatment can.  We want members of our community dealing with substance abuse and addiction to have the opportunity to heal and have continued access to employment opportunities. We’re excited to continue working together with our local leaders to bring the drug court to fruition.”

There are currently 22 adult and three juvenile Drug Courts across the Commonwealth. Currently, Greenfield is the only Western Massachusetts community with access to this specialized court.

Sen. Lesser Tours Mass Municipal Wholesale Electric Company in Ludlow

Sen. Eric P. Lesser today toured the Mass Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC), a non-profit public corporation that provides a variety of power supply, financial, risk management and other services to the Commonwealth’s municipal utilities.

“The MMWEC is a valuable asset to the Ludlow community not only as a local employer, but also as a contributing member of the community, paying the town $1.375 million last year,” Sen. Lesser said.

During his Nov. 2 visit, Sen. Lesser toured the Stony Brook power plant, a 527-megawatt, combined-cycle generating station located at the company’s Stony Brook Energy Center in Ludlow.

Across Massachusetts, municipal utilities like MMWEC serve 380,000 customers in 48 cities and towns, delivering about 13 percent of total electricity used in the Commonwealth. Of the 40 municipal utilities in Massachusetts, 21 are MMWEC members and 28 are project participants.