Category: Op-ed

Op-Ed: Making college more affordable

In MassLive, Dec. 14, 2015

This winter break, college students are bringing home more than just loads of laundry: they’re also bringing mounting loads of debt.

Student debt is a simmering crisis for young adults and their families. Nationally, 40 million people owe more than $1.2 trillion in student loans. In Massachusetts, the average student loan debt has increased by nearly 75 percent over the past decade, from $17,000 to more than $29,000. As college costs continue rise, this will only get worse.

Simply put, this is unfair and unsustainable, both for families struggling to pay tuition bills, and for our wider society, which benefits tremendously from a well-educated workforce. Skyrocketing debt is forcing young adults to delay marriage, home ownership and family-building. Student debt pushes graduates out of essential but lower-paying public service jobs like teaching. As a recent law school graduate, homeowner, and young father, I’m familiar with these types of financial strains.

I also know that in many cases, rising costs and a weak job market have combined to force many young people to forgo college altogether. These are some of the reasons why I’m so committed to tackling this issue in the Senate.

This year, for example, I joined a bipartisan group of legislators to override $5.2 million in funding cuts to UMass. I also voted to give UMass the ability to directly keep in-state tuition dollars paid by students, improving transparency and finally aligning UMass with the vast majority of other state universities.

In addition, I support a bill that would create an income tax deduction (up to $5000 per year) for contributions made to qualified college savings and 529 plans. Similar to an IRA, these plans allow families to save and pay for college tax-free. More than 30 states already provide incentives to invest in these types of plans. We need to catch up.

I also support a bill that provides full tuition, after financial aid and gift aid, for all residents who attend community college in Massachusetts, modeled after a highly successful program in Tennessee. Community colleges educate nearly half of Massachusetts college students, training them for valuable careers while also offering an affordable path to a 4-year degree.

There are also innovative programs happening locally that we can use as models. STCC and Westfield State, for example, set up a transfer program for students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree at a maximum 4 year total cost of $30,000 in tuition and mandatory fees. This approach gives families a highly valuable tool while saving for college: a fixed savings target.

Massachusetts is a global center of education and knowledge. A highly educated population is the key to our economic future. Alarmingly, while other states like Indiana and Tennessee are taking significant steps to make college affordable, Massachusetts is increasingly falling behind.

In this knowledge-based economy, a college degree has never been more important. Unfortunately, rising costs have also made it increasingly out of reach, robbing young people of their full potential. We can change that.

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

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/

Op-ed: Ensuring our seniors age with dignity

In MassLive 10/26/15

During a recent visit to the Ludlow Senior Center, I spent time chatting with local residents about everything from new grandchildren to the rising cost of prescription drugs.

These conversations are important, especially since our Commonwealth’s population is aging at a rapid pace. By 2035, nearly a third of Massachusetts residents will be over 60. These demographics are even more pronounced in Western Mass, which is older than the state as a whole. Policymakers need to be prepared for this change.

That’s why I joined the Legislature’s Committee on Elder Affairs. In my role on that committee, I regularly talk with seniors in our area. The main lesson I’ve learned is that seniors and their families require special attention and creative approaches from their elected leaders.

In Belchertown, for example, I spoke with a woman from the Pine Valley Plantation, a senior housing community, who was concerned about prescription drug costs and limited transportation. At a community dinner at the Hampden Senior Center, I spoke with families doing their best to care for aging parents.

One of the most important ways to support seniors and their families is ensuring each community has a high-quality senior center. These facilities serve as one-stop locations for everything from daily meals to health screenings, exercise classes and transportation. They make our communities more attractive places to live and allow people to remain in their homes longer, enhancing our neighborhoods and property values.

New senior centers in Chicopee, East Longmeadow and other communities do a great job of providing these vital services, but we can do more to bring them to all residents regardless of where they live. As a significant first step, I co-sponsored a successful budget amendment that brought a large funding increase to our Councils on Aging, who organize and run each community senior center. I’m also a strong supporter of the new Springfield Senior Center being built near Blunt Park.

In addition, I know that many seniors are worried about housing costs. That’s why I’ve worked closely with town, state and private sector officials on a new senior housing development in the Ludlow Mills, and support the eventual development of senior housing at the former State School site in Belchertown.

Many seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible, but have a hard time accessing vital healthcare and home support services. To help, I’m supporting a Senate bill that takes steps to improve the quality of these services, including Alzheimer’s care and physical therapy.

On a visit to the East Longmeadow Senior Center, I rode along with a Meals on Wheels volunteer, delivering dozens of meals to homebound seniors. Along the way I had the chance to chat with many of the meal recipients and hear a bit about their lives. We certainly have a lot to learn from our seniors – they’ve spent a lifetime living and working in our communities.

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.

Senator Eric P. Lesser is a member of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, which reviews and promotes policies affecting seniors in the Commonwealth.

Op-ed: Promoting innovation in government

We live in a time when technology is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, from how we shop and travel (Amazon, Airbnb, Uber), to how we communicate and find entertainment (Facebook, Instagram, Netflix). Thanks to mobile Internet, almost all human knowledge is now accessible with a few taps on the Smartphone in your pocket.

But one sector that has been very slow to change is government. As a result, our state government is not as efficient or responsive as it needs to be. Just one small example: after taking office this January as the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate, I flipped open my laptop to get to work. I was surprised to learn the State House still doesn’t have Wi-Fi.

Every day, I hear from constituents who spend hours waiting in lines, making endless phone calls, and taking time off from work to handle routine government business that could probably be completed with a few swipes on an iPhone. Recent high-profile mishaps, from the flawed rollout of the Health Connector to the error-plagued transition to a new computer system for unemployment benefits, have made it painfully clear that failing to properly incorporate new technology comes at significant cost. This isn’t about big government or small government: it’s about efficient government. Massachusetts, as one of our nation’s great innovation centers, can and must do better.

Locally, we’ve seen how new technology can improve government services. The police departments in Belchertown and Ludlow use “text a tip” to follow leads. ShotSpotter, a technology that tracks the location of gunshots, helps to quickly and accurately dispatch police. Chicopee recently set up free Wi-Fi, and Boston has an entire unit dedicated to using technology to improve city services, from fixing potholes to tracking your child’s school bus.

Other states have good examples to learn from, as well. Connecticut set up a program to collect and analyze motor vehicle crash data, giving law enforcement new tools to improve traffic patterns. Utah’s Open Data Catalog improves government transparency by consolidating various types of state data in one location, so citizens have easy access to state maps, demographic info, and more detail about how their tax dollars are spent. I hope to bring more initiatives like these to Western Massachusetts, so we can improve government services and make our Commonwealth more transparent and efficient.

That’s why I’m currently working on several initiatives to promote more innovation in government. I co-sponsored the Innovate Communities Bill, filed by Senator Karen Spilka, which passed the Senate over the summer. This legislation would encourage tech startups to partner with cities and towns on new ways to deliver services. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has recommended a new “Center for Excellence” to focus on how to use technology to improve government across various departments, from healthcare and energy to education and transportation.

Technology is rapidly changing the world by speeding up the delivery of goods, services, and information while increasing transparency and accountability.

It’s time we do the same for state government.

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

Back to school, for the little ones, too!

In MassLive 8/27/15

As summer winds down and families gear up for back-to-school season, it’s a good time to remember the vital importance of early education.

Study after study shows that the most significant brain development occurs before age 5. Every dollar invested in high-quality early education yields a return as high as $16, in large part due to reduced remedial and special education and improved graduation rates.

As the parent of a toddler, I’ve cherished watching my child’s growth and learning firsthand. Every day my wife and I marvel at the new words and discoveries our daughter encounters.

While there is no substitute for active and engaged parenting, we know that early education, whether preschool, kindergarten or other programs, makes a critical difference in children’s lives.

We also know that expanding access to preschool and kindergarten not only helps our children, but lifts our entire community by unlocking the full potential of our next generation.

That’s why I’ve championed early education programming and access in the Senate. For example, I joined my Senate colleagues to restore $17 million in funds to help our cities and towns transition to full-day kindergarten. Alarmingly, while Massachusetts has a formula for funding elementary and high school, there is no equivalent formula for kindergarten and preschool. I’m working on measures to fix this and move toward universal, full-day preschool and kindergarten.

To this end, I support an initiative that calls for a fully funded early education program for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Massachusetts, along with universal full-day kindergarten. In the Senate, I also championed a recent funding increase for the Boys & Girls Clubs, which provide essential early learning programs across the Commonwealth. I also joined the rest of my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan veto override to restore funding to Preschool Expansion Grants.

We also have great examples of innovative work happening locally.

For example, I co-sponsored an increase in state funding to Square One, based in Springfield and one of the most respected early education providers in Massachusetts, as well as to Talk/Read/Succeed!, a local nonprofit that promotes early literacy.

In addition, I’ve worked closely with Link to Libraries, an organization based in Hampden that has donated over 230,000 books to local elementary schools and leads a program that promotes reading at home. The Davis Foundation, also based in Springfield, provides grants across Hampden County and has done innovative work on early education.

During a recent visit to Brunton Elementary School in Springfield, I sat with a group of kindergarteners as they learned about colors and shapes with a set of wooden blocks. They might not appreciate it just yet, but the education they’re receiving will open a world of possibilities for them and their families in the years ahead.

Our mission as adults is to ensure that those young people, and all young people, have the necessary tools to make the most of their potential.

We’ll all be better off as a result.

Op-ed: Tourism, arts and culture are important economic engines

In MassLive 7/27/15

As we enter the dog days of summer and start packing our bags for family vacations, it’s a good time to remember all the great attractions that we have right in our backyard. From Six Flags to the Quabbin Reservoir, from Yankee Candle to the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Pioneer Valley has some of the most popular destinations in New England.

These attractions are more than just a fun place to spend the day; they help make up Massachusetts’ third largest industry, employing 130,000 people and producing $18 billion in revenue a year.

For this reason, I was eager to be appointed Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development, which is responsible for overseeing and supporting such a vital segment of the Commonwealth’s economy.

Tourism, arts and culture is especially important to our economy here in Western Massachusetts. Every year, thousands of people visit Hampden and Hampshire Counties for work, vacation, or family. Tourism­ related employment in our region alone totals nearly 5,000 people, with a payroll of more than $120 million annually. Direct spending by travelers in our region is over $500 million, resulting in over $11 million for our local communities. And with the MGM Casino, the new Dr. Seuss Museum, and the opening of new rides at Six Flags New England, not to mention the renovation of Springfield’s Union Station with new rail service, we can only expect that number to grow.

But our ability to attract visitors and the dollars they bring with them is not something we can take for granted. We’ve all seen the billboards as we drive along I­91 inviting us to ski resorts in Vermont and casinos in Connecticut. Our neighboring states are competing hard for tourism and culture dollars, and if we don’t keep up, we risk falling behind, and losing a lot of economic opportunity in the process.

That’s why my committee worked to secure millions of dollars in new resources for our tourism and culture economy. In this year’s budget, we increased funds for the promotion of local attractions like Bright Nights and the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden. I also collaborated with my colleagues in the House and Senate to secure a multi­million dollar increase for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which supports local institutions like the Community Music School, the Enchanted Circle Theater, the Quadrangle Museums and the emerging Springfield Cultural District.

These initiatives add vibrancy to our region and attract more visitors to our area. And when it comes to tourism, arts and cultural development, the investment more than pays for itself. According to the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, every dollar spent on tourism promotion can produce a seven dollar return on investment. That’s because visitors do more than just stop our attractions, they also eat at our local restaurants, stay in our local hotels, and shop in our local stores.

So as we get out and enjoy our summer vacations, let’s also keep in mind how important all the attractions are right in our own backyard, and what an important role they play in creating jobs and driving our local economy.

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

Honoring our veterans and their families

In MassLive 6/22/15

A few years ago my father called me with unexpected news: at the age of 58, he was joining the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

My dad had been a family doctor in Holyoke for nearly two decades, and after learning about the shortage of doctors in the armed services, he took it upon himself to do something about it; in 2010, he served a tour of duty as a field surgeon at Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq.

Through his experience, I learned the sacrifice involved in putting on the uniform. That sacrifice is shared by the family of those serving, as well. My mother, for example, faced the dual burden of worrying for her husband’s well-being while managing her own profession and caring for their family in his absence.

Since our nation’s founding, the sons and daughters of Massachusetts have been answering the call to serve.

To show their service and sacrifice, I’ve been focused on improving services for veterans as they transition back into the civilian life and seek opportunities for personal growth.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, I review and recommend legislation aiming to improve the lives of veterans and their families in Massachusetts, which has a well-earned reputation for being among the best states in the nation for veterans’ services.

For example, the VALOR Acts enable veterans along with the spouses of deceased or disabled veterans to volunteer their time in exchange for reduced property tax bills.

These laws also encourage private sector employers to hire veterans and spouses of disabled veterans for their businesses; provide seed money for the start-up and expansion of veteran-owned businesses; and permit veterans to receive academic credit for prior military training, coursework, and experience.

In May I co-sponsored a successful Senate budget amendment that helps fund BRAVE For Veterans, an organization that aids veterans transitioning into the workforce. I will be a strong advocate for this funding to be included in the final state budget when it is signed by Governor Baker.

I have also had the chance to visit the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke several times, where I’ve met with area veterans and their dedicated caretakers. Supporting the work of the Soldiers’ Home is a top priority for me in the Senate.

This past Memorial Day I had the honor of attending ceremonies in many communities around western Massachusetts.

At one ceremony in Chicopee, the names of those who died during the Vietnam War were read aloud and a candle was lit in their honor as the families and friends of the fallen paid their respects. It was a poignant reminder of how long the scars of war remain, years and even many decades later.

After all our veterans and their families have done for us, we must do everything we can for them.This is a solemn obligation I will always take with me to the State House.

State Senator Eric Lesser represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District and is a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans & Federal Affairs.

Op-ed: Equality for women and girls

In MassLive 5/19/15

Throughout my life I’ve been surrounded by inspiring women – whether it’s my mother, a social worker and scholar, my wife, a solo practicing attorney, or my two sisters who are both pursuing their career passions. I’m also the proud father of a young daughter.

Probably because of this, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we can make sure our laws promote equal opportunities for all Western Mass residents, including for women and girls.

Unfortunately, workplaces have not kept up with the needs of modern working families. Now is the time to break down the obstacles still standing in the way of progress.

In the Senate, here are a few items I’m working on:

First, I’m proud to co-sponsor the Equal Pay bill, which creates common-sense, modern-day measures that give Massachusetts women an equal footing in the job application process. On average, women in Massachusetts earn just 82 cents per dollar compared to men – a gap that largely persists even when factoring in education level, hours worked and employment sectors.

This bill would enable employees to talk to coworkers about their salaries without fear of repercussions, require employers to provide a minimum salary when advertising job vacancies, and make it illegal to require an applicant to submit his or her salary history. These simple but important measures will ensure that the salaries women earn really do match their skill levels and qualifications.

I’ve also co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure pregnant women and new mothers can be granted reasonable accommodations without worrying about negative consequences. Given that more than half of all pregnant women and new mothers in Massachusetts are in the labor force, this bill will make our workplaces more fair, more humane, and ultimately more productive.

These common-sense accommodations include, for example, allowing pregnant women to use stools at job sites or break for a glass of water. Frankly, it’s shocking that current laws don’t already protect pregnant women taking these steps to care for their health and the health of their child.

Third, I’ve co-sponsored legislation that creates a Commission on the Status of Women and Girls in Hampden County. The volunteer-run Commission would assess all matters regarding the status of women in our area, and recommend policies to state and local agencies and other organizations to help improve their quality of life.

I’ve also encouraged girls to consider careers in science, technology, education and math – areas where women have traditionally been underrepresented. I’m particularly excited that Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to close the gender gap in computer science, is launching its first program this summer in Springfield, where participants will meet women in the tech industry and learn about mobile apps, robotics and computer languages.

My goal is for everyone, regardless of gender, to feel they have an equal shot at reaching their potential and making the most of all of life’s opportunities. Reaching that goal admittedly takes time, but my hope is that these steps will bring us just a bit closer to its realization.

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

Op-ed: Taking steps to close the skills gap in Western Mass.

In MassLive 4/15/17

This winter, I brought several of my colleagues on a tour of a state-of-the-art facility filled with computerized modeling software and high-tech instruments. There, I chatted with workers who were locally trained in cutting-edge technology. They spoke with pride about their ability to provide a good life for their families. We weren’t in Boston, but in Chicopee, where an advanced manufacturing company called Hoppe Technologies has been operating for over 74 years.

The Pioneer Valley has been a manufacturing hub for over two centuries, starting with the Springfield Armory. But our region is at risk of losing its competitive edge because of difficulty attracting, developing, and retaining a high-quality workforce.

The precision manufacturing industry, which makes components for things like jet engines, semiconductors and electronics, is flourishing here in Western Mass., representing more than half of all manufacturing jobs in Hampden and Hampshire Counties.

But there’s a big problem: over the next 10 years, more than 44,000 jobs in this industry will go unfilled in Massachusetts, due to a lack of qualified workers. This presents a lot of wasted potential and a major threat to our economic well-being, especially since the average salary in this industry can approach $75,000.

To bridge this gap, we must help our schools and training programs prepare enough workers to fill the local, high-paying jobs available in this cutting-edge field.

Fortunately, we don’t have to look far for examples of great training programs. Chicopee Comprehensive High School’s machine tool technology program has seen great success. The Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, where I recently visited, is working on innovative programs to improve technical training for local high school students. And the Smith & Wesson Applications Center at STCC, which I toured shortly after its opening, received a large grant this year to fund new degree programs in device manufacturing.

In the State Senate, I’m working with my colleagues on several policies to close the skills gap. One priority is continued funding of the Workforce Development Grant Program, which includes a precision manufacturing pilot program here in Hampden County. I’ve also co-sponsored legislation to create a state-level “new market tax credit” that would stimulate private sector investment, growth and job creation in low-income communities. Finally, to attract more high-tech, high-growth businesses, I authored legislation to offer incentives for investors who target their funds at entrepreneurs located in cities like Chicopee, Springfield and other locations outside Greater Boston.

The Pioneer Valley has a proud history of manufacturing. Let’s build on what we do well and ensure our middle class stays vibrant for generations to come. Preparing our local residents for careers in high-growth fields like precision manufacturing is one of the best ways to do that, which is why I will continue to champion it in the legislature.

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

Op-ed: Together We Can Fight Substance Abuse

By Sen. Eric Lesser

MassLive.com

One of the most urgent problems facing our community is substance abuse, and in particular, opioid addiction. Nearly 1,000 people in Massachusetts died of unintentional opioid overdoses in 2013, more than double the number of motor vehicle deaths and a 46 percent increase over the previous year.

Here in the Pioneer Valley, public safety officials and community leaders have been working hard to fight back, whether through school outreach programs, specialized first responder training, or drug-related investigations and arrests. But addiction and overdose still remain a large problem, especially in Hampden County, where the rate of individuals with prescription drug abuse has exceeded the state average since 2009.

Given the escalating nature of this crisis, I wanted to share some of the work I’ve been doing at the State House to help reverse its direction.

First, I was recently appointed as a member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Opioid Addiction, which will investigate and recommend ways to better prevent, intervene, and treat opioid addiction across the Commonwealth. I’ll be sure to send updates about my work on this committee throughout the year.

Second, we know one of the primary gateways to heroin addiction is via prescription drug abuse. That’s why I’m sponsoring legislation to close the pharmacy shopping loophole, by requiring pharmacies to report their distribution of commonly abused prescription drugs within 24 hours, rather than the current 7 days. This will help pharmacists, public health officials and law enforcement to stop this dangerous practice before it becomes deadly.

Third, I’m sponsoring a bill to examine statewide bulk purchasing of Narcan, a successful anti-overdose drug. Unfortunately the price is skyrocketing, preventing police, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders from getting access to this lifesaving medicine. My bill would help save money by pooling resources and getting a better price from the manufacturer.

I’m also working with my colleagues to support local programs to combat substance abuse. In February, Senator Welch (D-West Springfield), Senator Humason (R-Westfield), Senator Downing (D-Pittsfield) and myself hosted a delegation of Senators led by Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr on a tour of Western Massachusetts. One of our most important stops we made was to the Hampden County Sheriff’s substance abuse treatment facility, where lawmakers learned first-hand about treatment programs with a proven track record of success.

Finally, I’m working with my colleagues in the House and Senate on several additional bills aimed at combating opiate abuse. These include legislation requiring any drug manufacturer operating in Massachusetts to contribute to the Drug Stewardship Program, which provides safe take-back and disposal of unwanted prescription drugs. I’ve also co-sponsored a bill requiring all opiates in Massachusetts to be prescribed electronically to allow for better monitoring.

While substance abuse is a serious challenge, by working together, we can help make our neighborhoods safer and improve quality of life here in Western Mass and across the Commonwealth.

State Sen. Eric P. Lesser represents the First Hampden and Hampshire District. You can contact Sen. Lesser at 617-722-1291.