Category: Press Release

With Sen. Lesser’s Support, MA Senate Increases Aid to Hampden-Wilbraham School District

The Massachusetts Senate adopted a budget amendment increasing funding for school transportation in regional school districts, including Hampden-Wilbraham, by $2.5 million to a total of $59,021,000.

“School transportation has been one of the most difficult challenges for the Hampden-Wilbraham district,” Lesser said. “This measure will provide much-needed relief, and free up local money for other priorities.”

“I was pleased to learn that Senator Lesser and the MA State Senate have supported an increase in Regional School Transportation funding,” said Hampden-Wilbraham School Superintendent Martin O’Shea. “As a District covering over 40 square miles, HWRSD relies on Regional Transportation Aid to provide thousands of students with safe transportation to and from school.”

The amendment, which passed the Senate, increases reimbursement rates to 73 percent for all school districts, including Hampden-Wilbraham. This represents a notable increase from the projected FY15 rate of 64 percent, and a significant increase since FY11, when the rate was 58 percent.

In 2014, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District faced a significant budget shortfall, when state aid for school transportation was abruptly cut.

Rep. Petrolati & Sen. Lesser Secure Funding for Ludlow Mills Riverwalk Improvements

Significant funds for public safety improvements on the Ludlow Mills Riverwalk have been included in both the Massachusetts House and Senate budget proposals. These funds will allow for the installation of lighting, benches, trash receptacles and historic signage along the Riverwalk.

Rep. Thomas Petrolati (D-Ludlow) led efforts in the House to secure $350,000 in funding for the Riverwalk, which is part of the Ludlow Mills Preservation and Redevelopment master plan and aims to promote public health and recreation along the Chicopee River.

“This is the third year in a row that the House has fully funded the Ludlow Mills Riverwalk,” Petrolati said. “It has always remained a key component of the revitalization program in bringing back economic vitality to a once thriving and integral part of Ludlow. I am pleased to see that the Senate has secured funding for the first time and will now be helpful in the budget conference.”

In the Senate, Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) also worked to secure funding for the Riverwalk, which was passed as an amendment to the FY16 Senate budget in the amount of $170,000.

“The new riverwalk will allow the people of Ludlow to reconnect with the Chicopee River, improve quality of life, and help spur redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills, creating more jobs and economic opportunity for Ludlow and the surrounding community,” Lesser said.

The final allocation will be determined in a budget conference committee and signed into law by Governor Baker this summer. This allocation will accompany $600,000 in private funding already secured for the project from MassDevelopment.

In March, Rep. Petrolati and Sen. Lesser brought Jay Ash, the Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, on a tour of the Ludlow Mills complex and the site of the Riverwalk.

The riverwalk is part of a broader redevelopment of the Ludlow Mills, which includes construction of 75 modern affordable apartments for senior citizens, and opening up the area along the Chicopee River to the Ludlow Mills businesses and to residents of the community. Phase I of the project is expected to be completed by July.

Senators Lesser & Welch Join Forces to Support Spirit of Springfield

The MA Senate unanimously adopted an amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser and co-sponsored by Sen. James T. Welch (D-West Springfield) that provides $100,000 for the Spirit of Springfield.

“From the 4th of July fireworks to the World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, from Bright Nights to the Parade of Big Balloons, the Spirit of Springfield is responsible for so many of Western Massachusetts’ most iconic events,” Lesser said. “This funding will help Spirit of Springfield further its mission of community service and empowerment.”

“The Spirit of Springfield helps showcase all the outstanding events the city hosts and fosters a sense of pride among residents,” Welch said. “I’m happy that the Senate budget included funding for this great organization, and hopeful it will help bring even more visitors to Springfield to experience what the city has to offer.”

The organization coordinates several large-scale annual community events each year in the Pioneer Valley that enhance quality of life by fostering a sense of community, civic pride and opportunities for celebration.

Sen. Eric Lesser Urges Gov. Baker’s Opioid Addiction Task Force to Recommend Two Key Measures to Fight Statewide Opioid Crisis

Sen. Eric P. Lesser submitted a letter this week urging Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Abuse Task Force to include his legislation that would close the pharmacy shopping loophole and establish the bulk purchasing of the anti-overdose drug Narcan in its list of recommendations for a statewide strategy to combat opioid addiction and curb overdose deaths in the Commonwealth.

“I hope you will consider joining with the Senate and including these provisions in your recommendations to Governor Baker,” Lesser states in the letter. “Together, we can combat this crisis with smart policy.”

In late May, the state Senate unanimously adopted a budget amendment filed by Senator Lesser aiming to curb prescription drug abuse and reduce the state’s alarming rate of opioid overdose deaths.

Specifically, the amendment reduces the length of time pharmacies must report to the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) from the current 7 days to 24 hours, as recommended by the Department of Public Health’s Drug Control Program in a February 2015 report, to assist in faster identification of pharmacy shopping and more effective prevention of overdose deaths.

Massachusetts State Police reported 217 suspected heroin overdose deaths during the first three months of 2015, a figure that doesn’t include the state’s three largest cities.

In addition, the anti-overdose drug Narcan has saved hundreds of lives in cases of heroin overdose, but first responders across Massachusetts have noted that its price is skyrocketing with growing demand.

To help municipalities purchase Narcan at a cheaper rate, Senator Lesser filed a bill requiring a study of different bulk purchasing options the state could offer. The bill’s framework was incorporated into the Senate’s FY16 budget proposal, which creates a program for cities and towns to order the lifesaving overdose reversal drug at a discounted rate via statewide bulk-purchasing, and creates opportunities for similar programs for other drugs of public health concern.

“The opioid crisis is destroying neighborhoods, families, and hundreds if not thousands of lives,” Lesser said. “Gov. Baker and I agree that state government must act swiftly in cooperation with first responders on the ground to reverse its direction, and I believe these recommended actions will be of great help to those efforts.”

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Sen. Eric Lesser Sends Letter Urging Gov. Baker’s Opioid Task Force to Recommend Two Key Measures

BOSTON–Senator Eric P. Lesser submitted a letter this week urging Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Abuse Task Force to include his legislation that would close the pharmacy shopping and establish the bulk purchasing of the anti-overdose drug Narcan in its list of recommendations for a statewide strategy to combat opioid addiction and curb overdose deaths in the Commonwealth.

“I hope you will consider joining with the Senate and including these provisions in your recommendations to Governor Baker,” the letter states. “Together, we can combat this crisis with smart policy.”

In late May, the state Senate unanimously adopted a budget amendment filed by Senator Lesser aiming to curb prescription drug abuse and reduce the state’s alarming rate of opioid overdose deaths.

Specifically, the amendment reduces the length of time pharmacies must report to the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) from the current 7 days to 24 hours, as recommended by the Department of Public Health’s Drug Control Program in a February 2015 report, to assist in faster identification of pharmacy shopping and more effective prevention of overdose deaths.

Massachusetts State Police reported 217 suspected heroin overdose deaths during the first three months of 2015, a figure that doesn’t include the state’s three largest cities.

In addition, the anti-overdose drug Narcan has saved hundreds of lives in cases of heroin overdose, but first responders across Massachusetts have noted that its price is skyrocketing with growing demand.

To help municipalities purchase Narcan at a cheaper rate, Senator Lesser filed a bill requiring a study of different bulk purchasing options the state could offer. The bill’s framework was incorporated into the Senate’s FY16 budget proposal, which creates a program for cities and towns to order the lifesaving overdose reversal drug at a discounted rate via statewide bulk-purchasing, and creates opportunities for similar programs for other drugs of public health concern.

“The opioid crisis is destroying neighborhoods, families, and hundreds if not thousands of lives,” Lesser said. “Gov. Baker and I agree that state government must act swiftly in cooperation with first responders on the ground to reverse its direction, and I believe these recommended actions will be of great help to those efforts.”

Senator Lesser tours the Zoo at Forest Park

Ray Hershel, Western Mass News

SPRINGFIELD–Remember the tough winter when Springfield’s Forest Park Zoo lost two monkeys? Upgrades have been made, and on Tuesday, state Sen. Eric Lesser toured the zoo with the goal of making it a regional tourist attraction. Last December, one of the zoo’s monkeys died after a fight with other monkeys and just days after, a second monkey died after a circuit breaker tripped, knocking out power and heat to the monkey’s shed. The zoo has a new alarm system in place to take care of the heating problem where the monkeys were living and is making other improvements.

“We’ve been able to install the temperature gauge system. We’re working with the city officials to get the electrical improved from the park into the zoo. It’s consistent facility improvement at the zoo which is nice,” said Meghan Rothschild, a member of the zoo’s board of directors.

Once the electrical system is improved, Rothschild added that the zoo is hoping to install temperature gauging systems in other locations as well to better protect the animals.

Lesser toured the zoo, saying he wants to make the zoo a tourist destination stop in the Pioneer Valley.

“I’m the chair of the tourism committee in the Senate and we want to make sure we look at the zoo as part of the broader picture of attractions that we’re pitching to the region and the country,” Lesser said.

Lesser noted that the key is getting the word out about the zoo, which he calls a gem. And there could be state funding to help.

“It is a tough budget year and it’s hard to find state funds, but there are a variety of state programs that help with tourist promotion,” says Lesser.

Zoo officials are thrilled about additional promotional help,

“We’re excited for the opportunity of what this could mean. and we’re constantly trying to raise awareness and let people know we’re here,” Rothschild explained.

The zoo is now open for the season, seven days a week.

Op-ed: If You Want to Make a Difference, There’s No Place Like Home

One of many special things about Harvard is that its students come from all fifty states and every region on earth. It’s part of what makes our time in Cambridge so unique and enriching.

But something happens to this diverse group over four years. While students enter from all over the country and the world, only about one quarter return to their home state. After Commencement, nearly two-thirds of Harvard graduates move to just four places: New York City, Washington, DC, Boston or California. These are all nice locations, of course, filled with exciting opportunities and interesting things to do. I’ve spent a lot of time in each place. But if you’re still looking for a way to make an impact, consider another option: go home.

Last year, after more than a decade in Cambridge, Washington, DC, and traveling to 47 states and seven countries with Barack Obama, I ran for state senate from my hometown in western Massachusetts. I was in my last semester at Harvard Law School and a tutor in Kirkland House. I was on my way to a top law firm and a very comfortable salary. But my wife, daughter and I put that aside and moved back to my childhood home ninety miles west to jump into a political campaign as a long shot candidate in a crowded primary.

The campaign was an adventure, to say the least. My wife and I cold-called thousands of voters and knocked on thousands of doors. I spent countless hours trying to win over city councilors, county officials, and Democratic committee chairs. I can confidently predict that I’ve attended more pancake breakfasts, pasta nights, ice cream socials, and neighborhood picnics than anyone else in my Harvard class. Although I’m now the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate, I spent a lot of time at retirement communities: two-thirds of my district’s voters are over fifty.

I had never run for public office before. When I started, I had no campaign organization, no name identification, and faced opponents who had spent decades in the local political system. The region where I’m from is a wonderful place to grow up, but has struggled to keep pace with the red-hot economies in other parts of Massachusetts. What I lacked in longevity I tried to make up for with enthusiasm, a commitment to look at things differently, and a belief that what I learned at the White House and Harvard could be useful at home. Many were eager for a fresh perspective. Others were skeptical. I won by 192 votes.

Now, I have the chance to work every day helping the community where I grew up. The work is not glamorous, but it makes a tangible difference in peoples’ lives: a new program to lower the cost of a life-saving anti-overdose drug, for example, or a pilot program to train workers for careers in precision manufacturing. I put my Harvard education to work each day in the same places where I went trick-or-treating, played catch, learned to drive, and went fishing with my Dad.

You don’t have to work in politics to make a difference in your hometown. If your passion is starting a business, think about doing it where you grew up. You’ll have a built-in customer base (your family and high school friends will be loyal even if your idea is less than perfect). And it will probably be cheaper to get started, too. If you want to work in medicine, having personal knowledge of a community’s needs and history will make you a better clinician and a more thoughtful researcher. If journalism is your calling, your local paper is probably very eager for talented writers and fearless reporters. If you want to act, dance, sing, paint or sculpt, local arts and culture scenes are often the quickest ways to get noticed. People and businesses outside of Washington, Boston, San Francisco, and New York City need talented lawyers, bankers, app designers, professors, accountants, marketers, brokers, programmers and management consultants, too.

Harvard is a place that rewards ambition and exploration. From our first days on campus, we’re encouraged to act boldly, think globally, and travel far. Those are worthwhile traits, and we should hold onto them. And for some of us the boldest and bravest way to have an impact is to go where we are needed most: home.

Senator Eric P. Lesser ’07 J.D. ’15 was a government concentrator in Kirkland House and a Kirkland Resident Tutor. He is currently the youngest member of the Massachusetts Senate. Previously, he worked as Special Assistant to White House Senior Adviser David M. Axelrod and Director of Strategic Planning for the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Sen. Lesser Delivers Maiden Speech, Secures Additional Funding for Job Training

BOSTON–State Senator Eric Lesser gave his maiden Senate speech yesterday evening, successfully securing passage of a budget amendment to fund the Massachusetts Precision Manufacturing Pilot Program, which provides skills training to unemployed and underemployed adults, including veterans, across Massachusetts.

In his speech, Lesser called the Pioneer Valley “a manufacturing hub for 10 generations,” but said the region has had to reshape its legacy to keep pace with rapid shifts in advanced manufacturing practices and international markets.

“One of the most important challenges we must face is to address the gap between the jobs that are being created in our economy, and the people who are looking for work,” Lesser said. “That’s what this amendment does.”

The budget amendment increases the appropriation by $500,000 to $1,445,000, part of which will be used to fund the continued operation of the program in Hampden County.

“Western Massachusetts has been left out of the red-hot economy in the eastern part of the state,” Lesser said. “But there is a path to reinvest in the middle class–and that’s to marry up our traditional history as a manufacturing center with the intellectual firepower of schools and training centers all across our state.”

Lesser, who is Senate Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, recently hosted a delegation of Senate members at EASTEC, a convention of over 500 manufacturing companies in the Northeast, at the Big E grounds in West Springfield. He also recently published an op-ed on the widening manufacturing skills gap in Massachusetts, especially in the Pioneer Valley.

Lesser received a standing ovation from the Senate members upon conclusion of his maiden speech. The amendment passed with unanimous support and will be part of the Senate’s FY16 budget.

 

***TRANSCRIPT***

 

Mr. President, I rise in support of amendment 328, a manufacturing pilot program. This amendment would allow $1.5 million to train workers—both the underemployed and the unemployed—including many veterans. This is a statewide program that has unique importance in the Greater Springfield area where a training program has been set up and operating for the last year and is already over-enrolled.

Mr. President, just as you do, I come from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, the crossroads of New England, a strategic location in between Albany and Boston, and in between the Vermont border and New York, along the banks of the Connecticut River, where George Washington placed the armory during the Revolutionary War.

Ever since that armory was placed in Springfield, we have been a manufacturing center. We invented the American system of manufacturing—precision parts, components, come from the Pioneer Valley. We have also been one of the great engines of innovation, not only for New England, but for the entire country.

Some of our most iconic companies and products come from the Pioneer Valley. Just a few examples: Duryea Brothers, the very first automobile, manufactured in Springfield; Rolls Royce, American manufacturing was done in Springfield; Indian Motorcycles; Milton Bradley; Westinghouse; American Bosch–all done in Hampden County, in the Lower Pioneer Valley.

This legacy of advanced manufacturing continues in our area. High-tech manufacturing, solar panels, the components of wind turbines, batteries, advanced parts that leverage technology and know-how–all come from the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.

Now, this has not only been an engine of great products and innovation—it has been our ticket to the middle class. The average salary in this industry can approach $75,000 a year, with real job security. People can buy homes, they can save for college, they can invest in their future in this industry through these jobs, by making things.

Perhaps most importantly, that proud tradition that goes back to George Washington extends ten generations. Many of the families in our area teach their children the trade—they hand it down from one generation to the next. Most of our manufacturers are small businesses run and operated by families, handed down from father to son, father to daughter, mother to daughter, grandchildren, on and on.

This is also an industry and a style of economy that has allowed the broader community to prosper. We’re the birthplace of basketball. We built six world-class museums. The biggest symphony hall in New England outside of Boston all came to the Springfield area, fueled by the growth and the ingenuity of a middle-class-oriented manufacturing center.

But unfortunately, as the story played out in so many other parts of our Commonwealth and our country, that industry also came under decline. The region fell on hard times, jobs moved overseas. And I would argue that as that industry declined, something else was lost. As we lost the ability to invest in trades, as we lost the ability to invest in a craft, to make things, the middle class suffered as well. And we were left out of the red-hot economy that developed in the eastern part of the state.

But there is a vision for the future. There is a path to reinvest in this industry, and through that to reinvest in the middle class—the bedrock of what so many of us stand for, so many of us fought for and campaigned for.

And that’s to marry up our traditional history as a manufacturing center with the intellectual firepower of our schools and our training centers, and the know-how we have all over this state. Right now in the Pioneer Valley there is a renaissance in the advanced manufacturing field, making sonar equipment, airplane components, wind turbines, all the things that fuel the modern economy, that make Massachusetts a leader for the country, can be made in Western Massachusetts and in the Commonwealth as a whole.

In fact right now, it is projected that over the next 10 years, there will be 44,000 vacancies in the advanced manufacturing field. Let’s think about that—44,000 vacant positions in a field that pays average salaries of around $75,000 a year. Imagine the wasted potential if we don’t take this on. Imagine the families that won’t be able to put a kid through college, buy a home, invest in their futures, if we don’t take this on.

And so I would argue that one of the most fundamental things that we as a body must take up, one of the most important challenges we have to face, is to address this skills gap, is to address the gap between the jobs that are being created in our economy and the people looking for work, not only in Hampden County and in Berkshire County and in Hampshire County and the Pioneer Valley, but in all of Massachusetts as well.

Mr. President, I understand that there are many challenges before us. We have seen over 900 amendments and counting. All the challenges that confront this body. But as was so eloquently stated on the first day of our session, shared prosperity is our goal. And I would argue that so many of the challenges we face–public safety, education, growing poverty–are connected to this fundamental challenge, which is a middle class that is increasingly squeezed, and an economy that increasingly serves the top and forgets the middle.

And so I would just finally close with this: I understand how many demands there are for funds, how many demands there are for costs. It is a tough budget and it’s a tough time. It always is. But we can’t afford not to do this, we can’t afford not to make these decisions, to make these investments. Because here’s the challenge, here’s what we all face as legislators. In an economy where a 19-year-old can become a billionaire by inventing an iPhone app, how do we create an economy that works for everybody else? How do we create an economy that continues to give equal opportunity, that continues to allow people to pass it down to the next generation?

We have to restore balance. We have to invest in our middle class.

Now, Amendment 328 is a modest proposal. It’s $1.5 million in a $39 billion budget. But it is nonetheless a proposal. And although it’s incremental, although it might not seem like a lot, for the hundreds of people that will benefit from this training, it is a lot, it’s the world to them, it’s the world to their families. So I humbly ask in my first address before you that you consider amendment 328. Mr. President, and through you to the members, I ask for your support of this amendment.

Because although it’s just a start, it is a start, and we know what the path is to shared prosperity—the path is investing in our middle class. And that can only happen if we give people the skills and the education to make it on their own.

I thank the Chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee for her support and her counseling through this process. I thank the President and I thank my colleagues for welcoming me to the Senate.

I humbly ask for a recording of the yeas and nays.

[Members and guests stood and applauded the Senator’s maiden speech. The time was 5:27 p.m.]

Lesser’s Plan for Narcan Bulk Purchasing Included in FY16 Budget

By Shira Schoenberg, MassLive

 

The budget proposed by the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee includes a new program that would allow the state to bulk purchase the anti-overdose drug Narcan, then sell it to cities and towns.

The idea for the bulk purchasing originated in Longmeadow, with a bill filed by State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow.

Lesser said he hopes the program, if it becomes law, can save municipalities money by allowing the state to use its market power to negotiate lower drug prices. But he also believes it has broader implications for other prescription drugs. “It opens the door to applying a bulk purchasing program to a broader array of drugs, if they have public health applications,” Lesser said.

The Senate Ways and Means budget provides $100,000 to administer the bulk purchasing program.

Narcan, the brand name for the drug naloxone, reverses opioid overdoses. It is somewhat unique because municipal government employees like police, emergency medical technicians and firefighters are among the primary buyers of the drug, in addition to doctors, hospitals and treatment centers. As Massachusetts and other states have grown more aware of the opioid epidemic and of Narcan’s usefulness in combating overdoses, demand for the drug has skyrocketed and prices have increased.

But there have also recently been news reports about unusually expensive drugs, like the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, that strain the budgets of private and public insurers. Lesser pointed to hepatitis C drugs as another potential application of a bulk purchasing program. Bulk purchasing of drugs more generally is something Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has worked on previously.

Rosenberg pointed to Washington and Oregon as states that have successfully implemented bulk purchasing programs for drugs.

“We want to set up a system in Massachusetts, starting in this budget, asking all state agencies to aggregate demand,” Rosenberg said. “We think we can get a better deal.”

The Senate Ways and Means budget also provides $1 million to continue a pilot program that trains and purchases Narcan for bystanders and first responders in 24 cities and towns, one of several steps senators are taking to deal with drug addiction. It directs state agencies, including Medicaid, to look into possibilities for bulk purchasing other prescription drugs. (Gov. Charlie Baker also suggested bulk purchasing in his budget, but for durable medical equipment, not drugs.)

The budget passed by the House does not go as far as the Senate in looking at other drugs, but it would instruct the Department of Public Health to study the feasibility of bulk purchasing Narcan.

As opioid overdose numbers rise, state lawmakers and officials have put renewed attention on opioid addiction over the last couple of years, with several task forces being formed to address the problem.

Lesser said he learned last year while campaigning about the breadth of opioid addiction. He recalled a woman telling him that her adult child was prescribed painkillers after a motorcycle accident, then died a year later of a heroin overdose.

“It wasn’t until then that it really hit me just how human this his, how many families it’s impacting,” Lesser said.

Lesser filed just four bills this term, his first term in office, including the one to set up bulk purchasing of Narcan.

The Senate Ways and Means budget now goes to the full Senate. Once it passes, the House and Senate versions will be reconciled by a team of House and Senate negotiators, before being passed again by both bodies and sent to Baker.