Category: Press Release

Senator Lesser, Rep. Wagner to Host Economic Development Hearing at STCC

Testimony on several bills sponsored by local officials to be heard

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Joseph F. Wagner will be bringing the State House to Western Mass on Tuesday for a public hearing of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, which they chair.

“We thought it was important to have this hearing in Western Mass so that those proposing laws directly affecting our communities could actually see the impact they would have,” said Sen. Lesser.

“As we examine matters pending before the committee, we’ve made it a priority to ensure Western Massachusetts residents have the opportunity to weigh in as we move through the committee process,” said Rep. Wagner.

Details below:

WHO:  Senator Eric P. Lesser

Representative Joseph F. Wagner

WHAT: Sen. Lesser and Rep. Wagner, the Senate and House Chairmen of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, will hold the committee’s third public hearing at Springfield Technical Community College. They will be hearing testimony on some of the bills before the committee, including:

  • An Act relative to electronic filing fees for limited liability companies, introduced by Rep. Brian Ashe
  • An Act to establish the Western Massachusetts balanced sustainable development commission, introduced by Rep. Bud Williams
  • A Resolve establishing a special legislative commission on young professionals, introduced by Sen. James Welch
  • An Act relative to the development of a strategy supporting micro businesses in inner city communities, introduced by Rep. Carlos Gonzalez
  • An Act to establish Gateway City Opportunity Zones, introduced by Sen. Lesser

(Full list of bills below)

WHEN: Tuesday, September 19, 1-4 p.m.

WHERE: Scibelli Hall – Building 2, Springfield Technical Community College, 1 Armory St, Springfield, MA 01105

Senator Lesser Hosts Town Hall Forum in Belchertown

BELCHERTOWN — On Tuesday night, Senator Eric P. Lesser spoke to a church in Belchertown, where he held his first of three town hall forums this month.

For about two hours, Sen. Lesser took more than a dozen questions on topics including state funding for schools, increasing voter turnout and east-west rail connecting Boston to Springfield.

He also discussed the implementation of marijuana legalization approved by voters in a ballot measure in 2016, and how some of the tax revenue from marijuana sales will be dedicated to drug addiction treatment services.

“When people ask, ‘How do you make a difference?’ my answer is find ten people who don’t already agree with you and listen to what their point of view is and work to engage in a conversation,” Sen. Lesser said in response to a question on how citizens could advocate on behalf of bills they support.

“We can have differences of opinion, we can have disagreements, but I do think we all owe it to each other to keep it civil and to keep the answer moving in the general right direction,” he added at the end of the program.

Sen. Lesser met with the Belchertown School Committee and Board of Selectmen before the town hall.

The forum was held at Belchertown’s United Church of Christ. The next one is at Ludlow’s Randall Boy’s & Girl’s Club on Tuesday, Sept. 19 and the final forum will be at Springfield’s Greenleaf Community Center on Monday, Sept. 25.

Each of the events will be held at 6:30 p.m. with doors opening to the public at 6 p.m.

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Senator Lesser’s Remarks to Western New England University School of Law

“States are the traditional ‘laboratories of Democracy,’ the place where new ideas and approaches can be experimented despite the paralysis in Washington.”

SPRINGFIELD — Today, Senator Eric P. Lesser gave the following remarks at Western New England University School of Law.

Thank you to Western New England Law School for welcoming me today. A special thank you to my friends Dean Eric Gouvin, Professor Art Wolf, and Professor Sudha Setty. I appreciate the kind invitation.

It’s an honor to be here, and to be at this law school in particular, given its long and proud history as an incubator for public servants and social justice.

That mission is especially important now, at a vexing and challenging time in our nation’s civic life.

It seems like every day we are stunned by a new development, a new tweet, a new pronouncement that challenges each of us and drives wedges between us.

For law students, in particular, turning on the news feels like living through a real-life issue spotter. Can a President actually fire an FBI Director, no matter the reason or motive? Do the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement actually allow the U.S. to immediately withdraw? How far does the power to pardon extend, and what impact does it have on the Separation of Powers if it nullifies a court injunction?  What is the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution? All these vexing legal questions have come up just in the past few months. So now you can never say your legal education is irrelevant.

This is certainly no ordinary time. While it’s trendy to blame the current tumult in our political system on our current President, the reality is that our civic life has been deteriorating for a long time.

This is especially true for our generation. After coming of age during the Clinton Impeachment, September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial crisis and the Great Recession, it’s easy to understand why millennials are cynical, even angry, with a political system that has let us down and left us out.

But with all that said, I come to you with a challenge . . .

Because of your education, because of your inherent smarts, each of you has a lot to contribute. And especially because of your legal training, each of you will have immensely powerful tools at your disposal to help your fellow man and contribute to restoring our country’s civic fabric.

So at this point, you may be saying to yourself, ok, I know this is all very important, but what can I do about it?

Well, first, study and focus on school. But next, if you want to influence public policy in a meaningful way, focus on your local city and state.

States are the traditional “laboratories of Democracy,” the place where new ideas and approaches can be experimented despite the paralysis in Washington.

In our Federal system of government, the residual power not included in the Constitution rests with the states, not with the Federal government.

You are all familiar with this concept from law school. For example, as a 1L you learn about the Erie Doctrine, which explains that there is no Federal common law because power lies with states, so in the absence of a specific federal question, it’s state law that prevails.

This concept goes back to the founding of our country, which began as a group of 13 individual colonies under a loose Articles of Confederation.

After Shay’s Rebellion (which occurred just up the road at the Springfield Armory), the weakness of this system was revealed. Under the leadership of George Washington, the 13 separate colonies convened and setup a Constitution that created the United States. Thus, sovereignty in our system runs from states up to the Federal government, not the other way around.

Our Framers did not want, nor did they design, a system that would put political parties in competition with one another. There is not a single mention of “Democrats” or “Republicans” anywhere in the Constitution.

Instead, our Framers intended to design a system that would put the states themselves, and the three branches of the Federal government, in competition with one another. The idea was that through that very competition, between the Judiciary and the Presidency, the Congress and the State Legislatures, the Governors and the Judges, two things would happen.

First, freedom would be protected because no single authority would become absolute.

Second, just like competition in the free market economy, competition between states, and between the three branches, would allow the best ideas to bubble to the surface while continuously being refined and improved.

This system, obviously, does not work perfectly. And the institutions that make it possible are under strain. But even in this challenging political environment, we’ve seen the Founder’s vision play out in virtually every sector of American life: healthcare, civil rights, environmental protection, wage and hour laws, tax policy, immigration, you name it.

During my time working for President Obama and in the State Senate, I’ve been exposed to just a few specific examples:

Immigration

President Obama pursued a more open immigration policy, setting up DACA, expanding H1-B visas, and pushing for comprehensive reform in Congress.

Not everyone agreed. Arizona, for example, passed SB 1070, which began in Arizona’s State Senate (SB literally stands for “Senate Bill”). The law allowed Arizona state and county law enforcement to investigate and enforce Federal immigration laws. I was working for President Obama when this Arizona state law was passed.

The Obama Justice Department sued, and ultimately, parts of the Arizona law were deemed unconstitutional because they promoted racial profiling. So a Federal judge ordered an injunction stopping Arizona from enforcing certain parts of the law.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio refused to follow the court’s injunction, and continued to enforce the law anyway. So the Federal judge held him in contempt of court, a felony offense. He was facing potential jail time.

Just recently, President Trump pardoned Sheriff Arpaio for the contempt charge. So in that one case, you have the power of a President, the power of a State Legislature, the power of a Federal judge, and the power of a State Executive all in competition with one another.

Environment

The Environment presents another example. Under President Bush a set of states, led by Massachusetts, through their Attorneys General, sued the EPA for failing to adequately enforce the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court sided with the states, saying the Bush Administration was required by law to do more. Eventually, this led to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan and the Paris Climate Agreement.

But again, the competition among the various branches and states in our Federal system returned. This time, a different set of state Attorneys General again sued the Federal Government, led by Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, claiming the Obama Administration’s climate policies overstepped the Federal government’s power.

Most recently, we’ve seen another state-federal competition emerge in response to President Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords.

In a truly unprecedented move, California Governor Jerry Brown flew to China to negotiate climate reduction goals directly with the Chinese Premier. Article II of our Constitution grants the U.S. President authority to negotiate with foreign governments as the Head of State and Commander in Chief. It says nothing about Governors.

So again, we have competition between Governors, Presidents, Federal courts, state Attorney Generals, Congress, and State Legislatures.

This dynamic also leads to new policy innovations on local, state, and national levels.

Tax Policy

On the right, tax policy is a good example. California, believe it or not, was once a conservative bastion, the home of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the first shot in the “tax revolts” of the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1978, California passed Proposition 13, which limited the amount tat property taxes can be increased. Massachusetts followed in 1980, with Proposition 2 ½, and in 1981, President Reagan secured a landmark tax cut package for the entire country.

Healthcare

We’ve also seen this dynamic with healthcare. In 2006, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed our universal healthcare bill into law. This bill was then used a blueprint for the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed in 2010.

Gay Marriage

Civil rights has worked in similar ways. Gay couples in Massachusetts sued the state in 2001, ultimately securing the right to marry by a decision of the SJC in 2003. But the right was not secured with finality until 2007, after the State Legislature rejected several attempts at repeal. And in 2015, the Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal in all fifty states.

Infrastructure

Even infrastructure, which we typically associate with the Federal government, began with innovations by cities and states. Massachusetts built the nation’s first subway through a public-private partnership. New York built the Erie Canal as a state project. These visionary projects paved the way for President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, and all the economic opportunity Americans saw in the 20th Century.

My hope is that Massachusetts will once again lead the way with a high-speed rail connection between Springfield and Boston. Much harder things have already been accomplished.

So, there is a lot happening in your own backyard: in our cities and states. All of it is important. All of it involves lawyers, legal concepts, and applying your law school education in the service of causes much bigger than yourself.

So please remember, even if there is paralysis and dysfunction in Washington, our country has 50 other state capitals. And it’s in the states where bold new legislative experiments can — and often are — put to the test. Eventually, if they work well, they serve as models for national policy.

In these vexing times, we need leadership, innovation, fresh thinking, and new lawyers eager to make a difference.

Your legal training has given you the power to make that difference.

I hope you will use it.

Senator Lesser to Hold Series of Town Hall Forums

Events will be held in Belchertown, Ludlow and Springfield and will be free and open to the public

 

SPRINGFIELD — Today State Senator Eric P. Lesser announced that he will hold three town hall forums across the First Hampden & Hampshire Senate District. The forums will take place at Belchertown’s United Church of Christ on Tuesday September 12, 2017, Ludlow’s Randall Boy’s & Girl’s Club on Tuesday September 19, 2017, and Springfield’s Greenleaf Community Center on Monday September 25, 2017. Each of the events will be held at 6:30 p.m. with doors opening to the public at 6 p.m.

 

“It’s important to me to be able to hear directly from constituents about the issues that concern them. I’m eager to hear their feedback and bring it back to Boston with me,” Senator Lesser said.

 

WHO: State Senator Eric P. Lesser

WHAT: Belchertown Town Hall Forum

WHERE: Belchertown United Church of Christ, 18 Park Street, Belchertown, MA 01007

WHEN: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.

 

WHO: State Senator Eric P. Lesser

WHAT: Ludlow Town Hall Forum

WHERE: Ludlow Community Center, Randall Boys & Girls Club, 91 Claudia’s Way, Ludlow, MA 01056

WHEN: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.

 

WHO: State Senator Eric P. Lesser

WHAT: Springfield Town Hall Forum

WHERE: Greenleaf Community Center, 1188 Parker St, Springfield, MA 01129

WHEN: Monday, September 25, 2017 at 6:30 p.m.

 

Each town hall forum is open to the media, and a media availability will be held immediately preceding each event (approximately 6:15 p.m.). For questions, please contact Ryan Migeed, Communications Director to Senator Eric P. Lesser, at 617-722-1291.

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Senator Lesser Votes with Senate to Expand Property Tax Breaks

Bill gives cities and towns more options to adjust property taxes for seniors, veterans and the disabled

BOSTON — Today the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation allowing cities and towns to provide property tax breaks for low-income seniors, veterans and the disabled.

“Property taxes can be a large burden for those already have tight finances. This will allow more flexibility to cities and towns, to offer property tax relief to those who need it most, from senior citizens to veterans and the disabled,” said Senator Eric Lesser.

The legislative package allows a city or town to expand the existing property tax deferral for senior citizens and for active military personnel. It includes the option to extend the time for paying back interest on deferred taxes, and enables a city or town to reduce the interest rate on deferred taxes to less than 16 percent of what would apply once the active military personnel or senior passes away or the property is sold.

The bill also increases the tax credit for veterans under the volunteer service property tax reduction program from $1,000 to $1,500.

“A society is judged on how we treat our most vulnerable. Today’s legislation reduces the tax burden on our low-income seniors, the disabled, and our military service personnel,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg. “The Senate continues to look for ways to help those in need while balancing the needs of local communities to provide services to our residents.”

“Thank you to my fellow colleagues and staff who worked to piece this legislation together. This bill gives the cities and towns of our Commonwealth the opportunity to aid our senior citizens and military personal by developing existing property tax deferrals for them. This legislation provides the tax breaks and relief for those in need, most importantly our veterans, low-income seniors and the disabled,” said Sen. Michael Brady of Brockton, who sponsored the bill. “I am proud of the work our legislature has done on their behalf.”

The bill also creates two new local option real property tax exemptions for deaf individuals by providing an exemption of $5,000 of taxable valuation or $437.50 of actual taxes due, whichever is greater. In addition, the bill extends the foreclosure grace period from the current six-month window to a one-year window.

Finally, the bill improves the application deadlines for agricultural, horticultural, or recreational land.  Currently, the reporting deadline for chapter land applications to apply to have land valued, assessed and taxed as agricultural, forest or recreational land is October 1, which burdens farmers during the harvest season with paperwork that could be done at a later date. This bill moves the deadline to December 1 and amends and aligns the appeals deadlines.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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Lesser Proposal to Create EpiPen Bulk Purchase Program Signed Into Law

“This program will reduce health care costs and bring significant health benefits to the state — including the potential to save lives,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker signed a budget, approved by both the House and Senate, which included a budget amendment sponsored by Senator Eric P. Lesser to create a bulk purchase program for cities and towns to buy doses of EpiPens at a reduced price.

The proposal was based on the successful Narcan bulk purchase program, which was created by the Senate in 2015 and is administered by the Office of the Attorney General.

That program allows cities and towns to pool their resources to buy doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in bulk, reducing the price.

The goal of this amendment is to replicate that success with EpiPens, for which 10,000 schoolchildren in Massachusetts have prescriptions.

“As the price of EpiPens has continued to climb, parents have been forced to make unbearable choices between paying for a lifesaving drug for their child or paying for any number of other bills. This program will reduce health care costs and bring significant health benefits to the state — including the potential to save lives,” said Sen. Lesser.

Earlier this month, Sen. Lesser and a constituent, Dr. Mark Kenton at Mercy Medical Center, testified in favor of the proposal before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

Last year, Dr. Kenton wrote an open letter to the CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen, that went viral on Facebook.

Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, acquired the decades-old product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for a two-pen set, and has since been steadily raising the wholesale price.

In 2009, a pharmacy paid $103.50 for a set. By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.

“Any family will have six to eight at home, $600 for one 2-pack, you’re looking at 1,800 dollars at least. It’s just a huge cost burden,” Dr. Kenton said.

Now, the bulk purchase program will allow the state to leverage its purchasing power to lower the price of EpiPens for families and allergy sufferers who need it.

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Sen. Lesser, Rep. Higgins Testify in Support of Their Proposed “Student Loan Bill of Rights”

“We cannot be reactive to this issue; we must be proactive and prevent these abuses,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Natalie Higgins of Leominster testified before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in support of their bill to establish a “Student Loan Bill of Rights,” which would protect student loan borrowers from deceptive practices by student loan servicers.

“Massachusetts cannot rely on a patchwork of federal regulations and state legal actions that do not fully protect borrowers. We cannot be reactive to this issue; we must be proactive and prevent these abuses to the maximum extent possible,” Sen. Lesser said in his testimony.

Some of the documented abuses of students by student loan companies include late-night collection calls and steering borrowers into costly repayment plans. Sometimes, loan servicers will send bill payment notices in unmarked envelopes with vague return addresses, “almost hoping” the envelope gets lost in the shuffle, Sen. Lesser said.

“Then, when the payment is missed, the interest rate skyrockets,” he said.

 

Rep. Higgins shared her own student loan story with the committee.

“I did everything right. I went to a public college, worked my way through and finished in three years — and my parents still took out $60,000 in loans to help me afford it,” Rep. Higgins said.

Their proposed bill would establish a state Student Loan Ombudsman to investigate students’ complaints, educate borrowers and monitor student loan servicers. It would also require all servicers to be licensed with the state and follow standards of conduct subject to enforcement by the Division of Banks.

The bill would also allow the Bank Commissioner to take legal action against servicers who violate this bill of rights, including forcing servicers to repay student borrowers if they were found to be overcharged.

The bill is based in part on a similar bill that passed in Connecticut in 2015. Since then, 10 other states have enacted similar legislation: Michigan, Washington, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, California, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and New York.

At the end of 2016, there were 44 million Americans with $1.3 trillion in debt. In Massachusetts, the average amount of debt per student is at $31,466, seventh highest in the country.

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Senator Lesser, Mercy Medical Doctor Testify On His Plan to Create EpiPen Bulk Purchase Program

“Being able to afford EpiPens is a matter of life and death,” said Sen. Lesser

BOSTON — On Tuesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser and Dr. Mark Kenton of Mercy Medical Center testified before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in support of Sen. Lesser’s bill to create an EpiPen bulk purchase program that would dramatically reduce the cost of EpiPens in Massachusetts.

The proposal was based off the successful Narcan bulk purchase program, which was created by the Senate in 2015 and is administered by the Office of the Attorney General.

That program allows cities and towns to pool their resources to buy doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in bulk, reducing the price.

In the first half of 2016, the Narcan bulk purchase program was responsible for saving 1,500 lives according to a report from the Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner.

The goal of this bill is to replicate that success with EpiPens, which have been prescribed to about 10,000 schoolchildren in Massachusetts as of 2012, the last year for which data are readily available.

“This program would result in significant public health benefits and have the potential to reduce health care costs through increased purchase capacity,” said Sen. Lesser. “Being able to afford EpiPens is a matter of life and death.”

The EpiPen bulk purchase program would allow cities and towns to pay into a trust fund that could then be used to buy EpiPens in bulk directly from the manufacturer, reducing the price. The cities and towns could then allocate the EpiPens to schools and first responders.

Dr. Kenton, whose open letter on Facebook to the CEO of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen, went viral last year, testified alongside Sen. Lesser.

In a demonstration, he showed how much quicker and more efficient EpiPens are to the older method of delivering epinephrine to a patient, using a needle to draw the medicine out of a bottle.

“44 seconds versus five seconds. That difference in time is the time that a child’s airway swells…that the airway closes. That difference in time is the time that a child goes to respiratory arrest and then goes to cardiac arrest. That difference in time is the time that I may have to tell a parent that their child died,” Dr. Kenton said.

Mylan, the pharmaceutical company, acquired the decades-old product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for a two-pen set, and has since been steadily raising the wholesale price.

In 2009, a pharmacy paid $103.50 for a set. By July 2013 the price was up to $264.50, and it rose 75 percent to $461 by last May. This May the price spiked again to $608.61, according to data provided by Elsevier Clinical Solutions’ Gold Standard Drug Database.

“It’s important to note that Mylan did not invent the EpiPen; it bought the marketing rights to sell the solution to this critical health issue,” said Sen. Lesser.

Last week, the state House and Senate voted to approve a $40.2 billion budget that includes Sen. Lesser’s proposal to create a bulk purchase program for EpiPens.

Governor Charlie Baker has until July 17 to review and sign the budget and issue any line-item vetoes.

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Senator Lesser Issues Statement after House Strips East-West Rail Study from Budget

SPRINGFIELD — Today the Conference Committee released its compromise budget, which stripped the amendment to study east-west rail from Boston to Springfield. The measure had been included in the Senate version of the budget. Following the House and Senate votes to pass the compromise budget, Senator Eric P. Lesser released the following statement:

“I am disappointed that our proposal to study east-west rail from Boston to Springfield was stripped from the final budget, but remain undeterred. I share the frustration of countless residents in Western Mass and across the Commonwealth who are fed up with a political process that consistently leaves our region behind — not to mention stuck in traffic.

“This is, and always has been, a modest proposal with a potentially transformative goal: to reduce the regional inequality of our state and provide more opportunities for the residents of Western Mass. That’s why it passed the Senate 38-0. That’s why both Democrats and Republicans support it. That’s why business groups across the state support it.

“But we always knew it was going to be a tough fight to get this passed. If it were easy, it would have happened already. Entrenched interests are hard to dislodge. While the study was not included in this round, eventually good ideas have a way of bubbling to the top. And I am confident that we will once again get this to the Governor’s desk for signature.”

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Workplace Protections for Pregnant Workers

“The last thing we should do is penalize women who are trying to both raise a healthy family and work to support that family,” said Lesser

 

BOSTON — On Thursday, Senator Eric P. Lesser joined the State Senate in a unanimous vote for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would protect pregnant workers from workplace discrimination due to pregnancy.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem), allows pregnant workers to request reasonable accommodations, such as a stool to sit on, more frequent bathroom breaks, or time off for medical appointments, without fear of losing their jobs.

In addition, employers are prohibited from refusing to hire a pregnant job candidate solely because the candidate requires a reasonable accommodation. Employers are not permitted to force pregnant employees to accept an accommodation that they do not want or to take leave if another reasonable accommodation may be provided.

“The last thing we should do is penalize women who are trying to both raise a healthy family and work to support that family. I am proud that the Senate stood up for this common-sense policy to protect the jobs of pregnant workers who show up to do their work,” said Sen. Lesser.

Thirteen states have already passed these workplace protections for pregnant workers.

“When we started this journey two years ago, MotherWoman and her allies knew that too many pregnant women were struggling without accommodations commonly given to other workers. Massachusetts legislators, on both sides of the aisle, heard us. So did the business community,” said Linda O’Connell, Executive Director of MotherWoman, an advocate for the bill. “We are proud to live in a state that can solve real problems for real people.”

The bill will now be reconciled with the House version of the bill, which was passed last month, before being sent to the Governor for his signature.

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