Category: News

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.

###

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.

###

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.

###

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.

###

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.

###

Millennials rising: Young people fuel renaissance

In Masslive 2/11/18

While division and strife mark the national news, the news here in Western Massachusetts is about coordination and collaboration – especially among an emerging group of young leaders in government, business and the nonprofit sector who are tackling our region’s longtime challenges with new energy and fresh perspectives.

As co-chair of the state Senate’s Millennial Engagement Initiative, I’ve traveled to every corner of our commonwealth to meet with young people who are stepping up to lead. Millennials, in particular, are ready to reject old dogmas and divisions and to, instead, focus on solving problems through collaboration and building bridges across diverse viewpoints and cultures.

Western Massachusetts has been at the vanguard of this change. Two Western Massachusetts cities are led by millennials: Alex Morse in Holyoke and Will Reichelt in West Springfield. A near majority of the Springfield City Council is now under 40. This fall, Chicopee elected a new School Committee member and two new city councilors, each in their early 20s.

These young leaders are already changing their communities and bringing forward new ideas. Last month, the Springfield City Council increased the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, after a group of young people organized a campaign to change the law. Chicopee is exploring options to improve broadband Internet service, and both Holyoke and West Springfield are better leveraging technology to make government more transparent and responsive. Young people are driving each of these initiatives.

By bringing a more activist perspective to municipal government, millennials are also expanding the circle of people involved in government decision-making, offering new pathways for women and minorities to enter public service, regardless of age.

Our business community is similarly benefiting from an emerging generation of young entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and adding vibrancy to the economy here in Western Massachusetts.

Companies like Paragus Strategic IT, owned by Delcie Bean, who is 31, are creating new technology jobs and experimenting with new management models, like employee ownership sharing, that have the potential to become models nationwide. Tech Foundry, another initiative launched by Bean, is successfully training unemployed and high-school-aged individuals for IT jobs in local companies, and has received plaudits (and grants) from leaders in Boston.

Iron Duke Brewing, founded by young brew masters Mike Marcoux and Nick Morin, both in their 30s, has become a must-stop for craft brewery enthusiasts, expanding to dozens of bars and package stores in just a few years of operation.

These are just a few examples of many millennial-run businesses from across Western Massachusetts, revitalizing our cities and towns. In 2018, I’m confident we will see even more millennials here open new businesses and create new jobs.

It’s a good thing we have so many young people willing to step up, because the next several years, while filled with opportunity, will continue to present challenges that require creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

A lack of connectivity is putting a ceiling on our region’s growth, and, if we don’t make some substantial changes, we will continue to fall further and further behind the Greater Boston area.

An opiate epidemic is hollowing out our families and burdening our health and justice systems. Persistent economic inequality is limiting our region’s full potential, and too many areas of Western Massachusetts remain too segregated and too isolated from each other.

Luckily, our region is blessed with many institutions bringing people together to take on these challenges. And again, millennials are stepping up and taking leadership roles.

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts offers training for young women interested in running for public office. Valley Venture Mentors is supporting young entrepreneurs who want to start their business here and Leadership Pioneer Valley is providing a forum for young leaders in business, nonprofits, and politics to come together to tackle these common challenges with one voice.

This is how millennials solve problems, and this is how our region’s young leaders will make lasting change for our communities.

This is the challenge of 2018, as MGM Springfield opens its doors, CRRC Massachusetts comes on line, and new rail service connects Springfield with Hartford and New Haven. Now is the time to take these very important gains even further, by making sure we lock-in new opportunities and new jobs for generations to come.

As one young man said at our millennial discussion at the Edward Kennedy Institute in Boston, “If you give young people opportunity, they will create opportunity.”

Yes, they will. With a renewed spirit of collaboration and optimism, our region’s emerging leaders will help turn these developments into real benefits for our families and communities.

But doing that will take time, and it will require the determination to see good ideas through to implementation. It will also demand the participation of young people unafraid to stand up and lead.

Eric P. Lesser, of Longmeadow, is senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District, serves as co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies, and leads Millennial Outreach for the state Senate.

Lesser Amendment to Study High-Speed Rail Passes Senate Unanimously

BOSTON — On Thursday afternoon, the state Senate voted unanimously to approve a budget amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser to study a high-speed rail line between Boston and Springfield.

“More than bringing economic development to communities outside of Boston, high-speed east-west rail would go a long way toward solving Boston’s housing crisis by offering a faster commute to the city from areas with more affordable housing. This is why this proposal continues to receive unanimous support in the Senate and is gaining support from the business community and others across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who see its potential,” said Sen. Lesser.

Days before the vote, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce endorsed the proposal to study high-speed rail from Boston to Springfield.

In January, Sen. Lesser reintroduced his bill in the Massachusetts State Senate to require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to move forward with a feasibility study of Springfield-Boston high-speed rail. The same bill passed both the House and Senate last year but was vetoed by Gov. Baker.

Since then, the proposal has continued to gain support, including high-profile endorsements from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton.

In the state Senate, there was a rare widespread show of support for the measure. Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst voted to support the amendment when the Senate President, who presides over the chamber, customarily abstains from votes. Sen. Karen Spilka, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, also spoke in favor of the amendment, a gesture rarely used by the Chair of the committee, which writes the draft of the Senate budget.

Several Senators spoke in favor of the amendment before its passage.

“I support the high speed rail feasibility study from Boston to Springfield and thank my colleague Senator Lesser for his leadership on this initiative,” said Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester).  “The rail would pass through Worcester, connecting not just two, but three major cities in the Commonwealth.  I know that the residents of Central Massachusetts would benefit from a high speed rail line that would provide them with more options to commute across the state.”

Sens. Anne Gobi and Donald Humason, both from Western Massachusetts, also spoke in favor of the amendment.

“Rail service is a necessary link to bring economic growth to our area. In the 1960’s there were numerous daily trips between Springfield and Boston there is no reason, besides the funding and the will to do it, that passenger service can’t flourish once again,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer).

“I’ve heard about the value of this proposal from residents across my district, and with good reason. Limited transportation options can put a damper on our economic development and impact families’ decisions to take advantage of so much that our communities have to offer,” said Sen. Don Humason (R-Westfield). “A comprehensive study will allow us to take the first step of considering important preliminary questions and develop a clearer understanding of the project’s cost to taxpayers and its economic benefits.”

The amendment will be included in the Senate version of the budget, which will be negotiated with House members before a final budget proposal is sent to the governor’s desk.

###

Sen. Eric Lesser, lawmakers tout tourism, visit Springfield Museums

The economy might be right to launch your own business

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The economy is improving, and consumers are starting to spend, the time might be right to start a small business.

Before you launch a business, you need experience, money, and an original plan. Topics the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network explored at a legislative roundtable discussion Friday morning. State Senators Eric Lesser and Stanley Rosenberg spoke at the event.

The MSBDC provides free business training to local residents. They focus on a variety of areas from business growth and strategies, to financing, loan assistance, and marketing analysis. Their funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, and run through the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Isenberg School of Management.

Dianne Fuller Doherty, the regional director of MSBDC told 22News she thinks the economy is just right to launch a business. “I think it’s a great time to start a business because the economy has gotten better, more and more people are understanding the importance and the value of small business,” she said.

Sean Ouimette is a former MSBDC financial consultant intern. He told 22News he hopes to someday start a business, but realized that requires a lot of experience first. “I think everybody needs a level of experience because if you’re going to open a business, you have to know the ins and outs of that business so you’re prepared to deal with any challenges you might face,” she said.

Earlier this week, Dun & Bradstreet, said businesses with fewer than 20 employees only have a 9% chance of surviving ten years.

UMass Amherst Isenberg School student Emma Tupp said she’s still optimistic the best ideas will make it. “It seems like a very good market now-a-days. People want to do something, they want to put themselves out there and do something that could turn out really great,” she said.

For more information on MSBDC and their services, click here.

Opioid crisis: State targets drug abuse problem

MassLive – With opioid overdoses becoming a growing problem in Massachusetts, state officials have established three task forces to look at the issues surrounding opioid addiction.

“The idea is eventually we’re all going to merge each other’s work and put a plan together and have an actual piece of legislation for this session,” said state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, a member of a Special Senate Committee on Opioid Addiction Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Options.

Last year, as overdose deaths spiked, then-Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law reforming insurance policy and creating new reporting requirements related to substance abuse. The law requires insurers to pay for 14 days of inpatient care for acute treatment for addiction without prior authorization. It requires a commission to prepare a list of drugs that can be substituted for opiates and requires pharmacists to dispense and insurers to cover abuse deterrent drugs. Several of the insurance provisions go into effect in October.

This year, under Gov. Charlie Baker, the state has continued to make combating opioid addiction a priority.

The most visible task force is one formed by Baker and chaired by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. The task force, which includes Attorney General Maura Healey and experts in health care, drug addiction and law enforcement, has held four public hearings around the state, heard from 1,100 people and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Recovering addicts and bereaved family members told heartbreaking stories as they asked for more treatment beds, better insurance coverage and more education.

The task force is expected to release results by early June.

“We’ll be definitely focusing on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery recommendations for the governor,” Sudders said. Sudders said will not prejudge the task force’s findings, but she hopes to make recommendations relating to increasing access to treatment and not requiring people to fail at lower levels of care before accessing treatment they need.

“The overall goal is to reduce opioid deaths in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and make sure people get the treatment they need,” Sudders said.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has convened a separate legislative special committee, chaired by Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster. The committee is tasked with overseeing implementation of the law signed in August and with making additional recommendations to address opioid abuse through prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery.

There are also several bills addressing substance abuse already pending in the Legislature.

One, sponsored by Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, would create a drug stewardship program in which a fee is added to the price of addictive narcotics, and that money is used to buy back excess drugs if, for example, someone is prescribed 50 pills but only takes 10.

Lesser wrote a bill to amend a prescription drug monitoring program to require pharmacies to report filling prescriptions for addictive narcotics within a day, rather than within a week. The goal would be to stop people from “pharmacy shopping,” filling one prescription multiple places.

Another bill filed by Lesser would let the state purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan in bulk, so it could get cheaper prices, then distribute the drug to local police or ambulance departments.

In addition to those two committees, Healey has formed a working group of lawyers and investigators within her office to look at what the attorney general can do.

In an April interview, Healey said she is a looking at strengthening the state’s prescription drug monitoring program and cracking down on “problematic prescribing and dispensing practices.” She wants to focus on education and outreach to young people and families to prevent drug addiction, and to work with insurers and health care providers to ensure access to treatment.

Healey’s office has particularly been working in enforcement. In one case, Healey sued the North Andover-based Center for Psychiatric Medicine for allegedly charging MassHealth patients hundreds of dollars in cash fees for the anti-addiction drug Suboxone, when the medication would have been covered by MassHealth. The center allegedly allowed patients to pay cash to skip therapy sessions and physician visits.

Healey’s office has investigated and prosecuted criminal cases related to heroin trafficking and to people writing fake prescriptions. She requested information from the manufacturer and distributors of Narcan about recent price spikes. She has requested information from insurers about why Boston area drug rehabilitation patients who were affected by the Long Island bridge closure saw claims for treatment beds denied. A division of her office has been researching issues related to insurance coverage, cost trends and parity for physical and behavioral health treatment.

“Everyone needs to be at the table, because every day people are dying here in this state…and if we don’t come together now, it’s just going to continue to get worse and worse,” Healey said.