Category: Press Release

Senate Passes Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

Bill rewrote mandatory minimums and addressed crimes committed by young people to prevent school-to-prison pipeline, among other measures

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate on Wednesday to pass a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that works to reduce recidivism and divert minors away from incarceration and toward rehabilitation, among other measures.

“Many factors influence who goes to prison, beyond something as simple as a routine traffic stop. From the number of public defenders available to serve the accused to the number of clinic beds available for those who need substance abuse treatment instead of jail time, there are inequalities built into the system and they have long needed a fix,” said Senator Lesser. “This bill took that step, to make our justice system more just, and I am grateful to our local law enforcement, public defenders, advocates and District Attorneys for their input in this ongoing effort.”

The bill, S. 2371 An Act relative to criminal justice reform, strengthens protections for public safety officers in addition to improving prison conditions such as reducing the use of solitary confinement. Among some signature elements of the bill, reforms include expanding judges’ discretion in setting bail amounts and lowering fines and fees in an effort to help defendants get back on their feet and transition successfully back into society.

The bill also strengthens sentencing on the trafficking of opioids such as fentanyl, which has emerged as a leading and dangerous cause of the worsening of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. It designates all federally scheduled opioids as class A drugs, triggering stricter trafficking penalties.

The compromise bill has already passed the State House of Representatives and now goes to the Governor’s desk for signature.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Bill Ensuring Safety, Prevent Undertaxing of Short-Term Rentals

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser voted with the State Senate on Wednesday to pass a bill updating state law to adapt to new ways in which people rent short-term accommodations, such as through the website and mobile app Airbnb.

The bill, S. 2381 An Act regulating and insuring short-term rentals, requires those renting out rooms or properties through websites like Airbnb and HomeAway to obtain a certificate of registration from the state Department of Revenue. It was filed by Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues and co-sponsored by Sen. Lesser.

“This bill levels the playing field so that all those in our hospitality industry, from motels to bed-and-breakfasts and others are treated equally and fairly. Importantly, this law allows for local rules, local zoning, to give flexibility to different communities that have different populations and different needs. Many cities and towns, particularly in Western Mass, experience seasonal tourism due to events like the Big E, Tanglewood and Enshrinement at the Basketball Hall of Fame, and this cyclical economy supports thousands of jobs in the hospitality sector,” said Sen. Lesser.

The bill, which includes elements originally introduced by Sen. Lesser at the beginning of the legislative session, also empowers cities and towns to require registration, licensing and inspection in accordance with local ordinances or by-laws.

The legislation would generate an estimated $34.5 million and $25.5 million in state and local revenues, respectively, based on the most recent Senate Ways and Means Fiscal Impact Report. The expanded tax base will automatically apply to all 175-plus cities and towns that have already adopted the local room occupancy excise to date.

The bill also contains consumer protection measures, including an amendment filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge requiring hosting platforms to maintain liability insurance.

The bill will now be negotiated with House members before a final version is sent to the governor’s desk.

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Senator Lesser Visits Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at Chicopee Comprehensive High School

CHICOPEE — Senator Eric P. Lesser toured the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, which teaches unemployed adults new skills to enter the field of high-tech manufacturing, on Tuesday.

Sen. Lesser sponsored amendments increasing the program’s budget for several years, including highlighting the program in his maiden speech as Senator in 2015.

“Manufacturing may be changing, but it is here to stay. In Western Mass alone, there are thousands of jobs in high-tech manufacturing that go unfilled every year. To keep our manufacturing industry thriving, we have to invest in training programs that give people the skills to fill these jobs and take full advantage of these rewarding careers,” said Senator Lesser.

The program is administered by the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County in collaboration with the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association. The program involves 230 hours of training classes over 15 weeks, taught by technical instructors from Chicopee Comprehensive High School and two rotating engineering technicians.

The program model is designed to provide participants with entry-level machining competencies focused primarily on the operation of Computer Numerical Control (CNC) equipment.

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Senator Lesser and Health New England to Host Second Annual “Thrive After 55” Wellness Fair in June

SPRINGFIELD — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Health New England announced on Tuesday that they will host the Second Annual “Thrive After 55” Wellness Fair in June.

This year’s fair will be held on Friday June 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Springfield College’s Blake Athletic Complex, located at 263 Alden St., Springfield, MA 01109.

The “Thrive After 55” Wellness Fair is free and open to the public. With more than 40 local organizations ranging from health and fitness to nutrition and elder law, the annual fair will connect residents of the First Hampden & Hampshire District with information and resources to help them thrive.

“I’m excited to host this event again this year,” said Senator Lesser. “Last year, we had more than 500 people attend this informational event. This year we are eager to offer an even greater variety of resources, seminars and raffle prizes!”

Health New England is proud to support the second annual “Thrive after 55” Wellness Fair hosted by Senator Lesser.

Maura McCaffrey, President and CEO of Health New England, noted the overwhelming success of the event last year and said, “This year’s event is designed to provide important and reliable information about health, healthcare and lifestyle resources available to anyone 55 years of age and older. With so many quality vendors representing diverse areas of interest it’s a great place to research local services and explore opportunities for active, healthy living.  The Health New England mission is to improve the health and lives of the people in the communities we serve, and we are grateful to be part of the team that makes this event possible.”

The free program includes a boxed lunch, educational seminars, hundreds of raffle prizes, and access to information and experts to talk to. To attend, please call Senator Lesser’s office at 413-526-6501 or visit www.SenatorLesser.com/Thrive to RSVP.

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Senator Lesser and Rep. Ashe Visit Alex’s Bagel Shop for Grand Opening at New Location

LONGMEADOW — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Brian M. Ashe welcomed Longmeadow breakfast staple Alex’s Bagel Shop to its new location on Tuesday.

Alex’s Bagel Shop is celebrating its grand (re)-opening after moving from its previous address on Williams Street, where it had been for about 50 years, to 398 Longmeadow St.

“We are so happy here in Longmeadow that, even though Alex’s Bagel Shop is moving, it is staying in Longmeadow! This family-owned business has a long history here, and we are glad that this history with our Town will continue. Our local businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we are grateful for their contributions to our communities,” said Sen. Lesser.

“I am thrilled Alex’s Bagel Shop has been able to remain in Longmeadow.   The town, as well as the surrounding community, have enjoyed their food for many years and it has become a regular stop for many.  Small, local businesses are the cornerstone of our economy and Alex’s Bagels is a perfect example of how a local business becomes a valuable part of a community,” said Rep. Ashe.

Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Brian M. Ashe help celebrate the grand re-opening of Alex’s Bagel Shop with owners Alexander and Nina Belyshev.

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Senator Lesser Votes to Pass Bond Bill Incentivizing New Affordable Housing Development

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a housing bond bill authorizing $1.8 billion in investments to preserve and modernize existing affordable housing, and encourage new housing developments, across the Commonwealth.

The bill, S.2368, An Act financing the production and preservation of housing for low and moderate income residents, seeks to address the state’s housing shortage by redeveloping existing housing units and offering a range of tax incentives for developers to build new, affordable units.

“The cost of housing is one of the single greatest challenges facing the state. Boston’s growth spurt will slam to a halt if nobody can afford to live, work or move around. This is also why the state needs an effective, efficient transportation network — including East-West Rail — so that people are not forced to live close to work and can instead force the housing market to be more competitive,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow).

“Our affordable housing shortage has placed the Commonwealth’s financial health at risk,” said Housing Committee Chairman Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop).  “The Housing Bond bill is the first step toward ensuring Massachusetts develops enough affordable housing to support both its workforce and its economic future.”

Critical authorizations in the bill include:

  • $600M for the modernization and redevelopment of the State’s public housing stock;
  • $400M for the development and preservation of affordable and mixed income housing;
  • $125M for the preservation and improvement of existing and expiring use affordable housing;
  • $100M for the preservation and development of workforce housing;
  • $65M for community based housing for individuals living with mental illness or disabilities;
  • $60M for home modification for elderly residents and those living with severe disabilities
  • $50M to incentivize smart growth production and transit oriented developments;
  • $45M for the capital investments in early education and out of school programs for low income residents.

The bill also extends and expands critical tax credits to incentivize the development and modernization of the Commonwealth’s housing stock.

The bill will now be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives.

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Senator Lesser “Grateful” that State Loan Financing Authority Has Rescinded Its Membership in National Lobbying Group

SPRINGFIELD — Less than 24 hours after Senator Eric P. Lesser sent a letter, co-signed by 48 House and Senate colleagues, to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) requesting an explanation for their membership in a national student loan lobbying group, MEFA announced that it will leave the organization.

The organization — the National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) — is a trade association for companies that collect student loans, known as servicers. It has been lobbying a receptive federal Department of Education to preempt state laws regulating the student loan servicers. Secretary Betsy DeVos issued an interpretation arguing that it could preempt state laws.

Following MEFA’s announcement, Sen. Lesser issued the following statement:

“I am grateful that MEFA recognized that aligning itself with the Trump Administration and Betsy DeVos’ Education Department is not in the best interests of Massachusetts student loan borrowers. No quasi-public arm of state government should be involved in lobbying to undo state government actions. MEFA made the right decision by leaving NCHER, and I hope it leads to other states’ loan financing agencies — from Maine to Michigan to New Jersey to Pennsylvania — leaving this lobby group as well.

“The servicers should change their behavior even if the federal government doesn’t. What we are seeing is almost exactly the same playbook used by big banks in the run-up to the mortgage crisis that caused the Great Recession. States like Massachusetts passed laws to protect homeowners and crack down on subprime mortgage lenders, but the big banks went around state regulators and lobbied the federal Department of Treasury to preempt state laws. Large national student loan servicers like Navient, which are represented by groups like NCHER, are now doing the same thing by lobbying the Department of Education to preempt state laws protecting student loan borrowers. We’ve seen this movie before and we know what comes next.

“Our students deserve to be protected from loan servicers that are taking advantage of them. And it is not only our right, but our obligation, in the State Legislature to pass consumer protections that defend the residents of Massachusetts from questionable companies and suspect practices.”

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/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Senator Lesser “Grateful” that State Loan Financing Authority Has Rescinded Its Membership in National Lobbying Group

Economic Development Committee Holds Hearing on Gov. Baker’s Development Bill

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser and Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Senate and House Chairmen of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, heard testimony from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration on Tuesday regarding his proposed economic development bill.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash reviewed some of the successes of the state’s economic development programming, including MassWorks and other grants that have been awarded to 165 communities across the Commonwealth.

“State and local partnerships such as MassWorks grants have been essential to redevelopments in Western Massachusetts. In order to have a truly strong statewide economy, we must make sure that Western Mass is getting its fair share of investment and attention, especially in ways that are the most helpful such as job training programs,” said Sen. Lesser.

“This hearing was informative, and I am eager to get to work on a proposal that will provide the tools and resources to support growth in Western Massachusetts and across the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Wagner.

Secretary Ash highlighted a new Apprenticeship Tax Credit proposed in Gov. Baker’s bill, H. 4297, An Act enhancing opportunities for all.

The tax credit would fund “learn-while-you-earn” apprenticeships in growing industries such as health care, IT and advanced manufacturing.

There are also a number of measures in the bill designed to redevelop the state’s affordable housing.

The Committee heard testimony from Chrystal Kornegay, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, and representatives from local housing authorities who voiced support for elements of the bill.

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Senator Lesser and Colleagues Send Letter to State Loan Financing Authority Requesting Explanation of Possible State-Funded Lobbying for Student Loan Companies

“We need an explanation now,” said Senator Lesser

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser, along with four dozen colleagues, sent a letter to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority on Wednesday requesting an explanation of funds it has spent that likely helped fund lobbying efforts on behalf of national student loan companies.

According to a report by the American Federation of Teachers, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority — an organization created by the state legislature in 1982 to help state residents afford college — paid $88,646 in membership dues between 2010 and 2017 to the National Council of Higher Education Resources.

This organization, a trade association for companies that collect student loans, has been lobbying the federal Department of Education to preempt state laws regulating the student loan servicers. A draft memo recently circulated at the Department of Education shows the lobbying may have been successful.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued an interpretation, published in the Federal Register, declaring that federal law prohibits state governments from regulating companies that collect student debt on the Education Department’s behalf.

“The Trump Administration, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has repeatedly rolled back protections for student borrowers, siding with for-profit student loan servicers instead of students. We now have troubling evidence that a quasi-public entity in Massachusetts may be aiding these efforts and lobbying against our own state’s right to protect our residents. We need an explanation now,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser.

“We write to you to register our concerns regarding the enclosed report by the American Federation of Teachers asserting that the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) is involved in national lobbying efforts to benefit student loan servicers over the student borrowers whom MEFA is charged with protecting,” the legislators’ letter, signed by both Democrats and Republicans, reads in part.

“It is troubling to us that MEFA, a quasi-public entity which was created by the General Court in 1982 to ‘help Massachusetts students and families access and afford higher education and reach financial goals through education programs, tax-advantaged savings plans, low-cost loans, and expert guidance’ (as stated on its website), may now be helping to fund a national interest group that is lobbying against this same General Court’s efforts to pass meaningful protections for student loan borrowers,” reads another excerpt.

In total, 49 Senators and Representatives signed onto the letter, including Western Mass Senators Anne Gobi, Adam Hinds, Don Humason, Stanley Rosenberg and James Welch, and Representatives Brian Ashe, Carlos Gonzalez, Angelo Puppolo and Jose Tosado.

Read the full letter here.

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/ In Press Release / By Ryan Migeed / Comments Off on Senator Lesser and Colleagues Send Letter to State Loan Financing Authority Requesting Explanation of Possible State-Funded Lobbying for Student Loan Companies

Senate Passes Bill to Promote Civics Education, Including Measures Championed by Senator Lesser

Senate also passed bill promoting financial literacy in schools

BOSTON — The State Senate voted on Thursday to pass a bill promoting civics education, including measures that had been sponsored by State Senator Eric P. Lesser.

The bill, S. 2355, An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement, directs the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to ensure that all public schools provide instruction in American history, civics and media literacy, including participation in a civics project that will be a requirement for graduating high school.

The bill also creates a Civics Project Trust Fund and authorizes funding to support civics education projects in schools throughout Massachusetts.

“Civics and news media literacy are critical in an era when we are bombarded by an unprecedented flow of information, from articles to opinions to breaking news and fake news, all delivered to devices in our pockets. As fast as information moves, too many people — especially young people — have felt for too long that our government is not responsive enough, that our politics are not about solving big challenges anymore. Civics education gives people the tools they need to feel empowered and to make a difference,” said Senator Eric P. Lesser.

According to research conducted at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, students who recalled memorable civic education experiences were more likely to vote, to form political opinions and to know campaign issues. Researchers also found that civics education does not lead students to favor one party over another.

Also on Thursday, the Senate passed S. 2343, An Act relative to financial literacy in schools, which also included measures Sen. Lesser had introduced this session.

The bill establishes standards for students from kindergarten to grade 12 to learn about loans and interest, credit card debt, rights and responsibilities of buying a home, balancing a checkbook, state and federal taxes, and planning for retirement. The topics can be incorporated into existing mathematics, social studies or other class curricula.

“A lack of financial and civics knowledge was one of the primary complaints we heard from young people during our Millennial roundtable discussions,” said Sen. Lesser, referencing the conversations Senators held with young people across the state in 2016. “Balancing a checkbook, building credit, using credit cards wisely and planning for retirement are all important tools for managing your finances and preparing for your future — especially when you have to factor in student loans. Our young people need to be prepared for these rites of passage.”

Both bills now go to the State House of Representatives for consideration.

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