Category: Op-ed

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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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

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.