Eric Lesser

Senator

Longmeadow, MA

Eric P. Lesser was elected to the Massachusetts Senate on November 4, 2014. He represents nine communities in the First Hampden & Hampshire District, proudly serving Western Massachusetts as one of the youngest members of the State Senate.

Lesser’s legislative agenda focuses on the fight for greater economic opportunity and quality of life for Western Massachusetts, with initiatives around high-speed rail, a high-tech economy, job training, and innovation in government. Elected at the age of 29, Senator Lesser also spearheads the Senate’s agenda on millennial issues, including technology policy, student debt, and greater youth engagement in public affairs.

During his first term in office, Senator Lesser helped pass significant new laws related to substance abuse treatment and prevention, job training, and promotion of tourism and the arts. In his second term, he co-authored An Act Providing Continued Investment in the Life Sciences Industry in the Commonwealth, signed by the Governor in June 2018, which established $623 million in bond authorization for education, workforce training, and research and development in the life sciences sector. He also co-authored An Act Relative to Economic Development in the Commonwealth, a jobs and infrastructure bill that provided $1.15 billion in bond authorization for municipal infrastructure, waterfronts, and downtowns; established a new apprenticeship tax credit; and restricted the use of non-competition agreements.

Senator Lesser holds several leadership positions in the Legislature. He is Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Senate Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, and Senate Chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, the Gateway Cities Caucus, and the Libraries Caucus as well as Senate Co-Chair of the Food Systems Caucus. 

Prior to becoming a state Senator, Lesser worked in the Obama White House, first as Special Assistant to Senior Adviser David Axelrod, and later as Director of Strategic Planning for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Lesser began as a young aide on President Obama’s historic 2008 presidential campaign, traveling to 47 states and six countries with then-Senator Obama and his senior team. Lesser has been described as “the face of the promised Obama political generation” by the New York Times.

Lesser has a law degree from Harvard Law School, a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College, and is a member of the Massachusetts Bar. He holds a number of national recognitions, including a Rodel Fellowship in Public Leadership at the Aspen Institute, and Co-Chairs the Future of Work Initiative at NewDEAL, a national network of pro-growth, progressive state and local elected officials. He also sits on the Advisory Board of the Student Borrower Protection Center, a new advocacy group for student loan borrowers, and teaches workshops on campaigns, elections, and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lesser lives in Longmeadow, just blocks from where he grew up, with his wife, Alison, two young daughters, Rose and Nora, and family dog Cooper.

Pro-Growth Progressive Ideas Shared

Problem

Over the next 10 years, more than 44,000 jobs in the precision manufacturing sector will go unfilled in Massachusetts, due to a lack of qualified workers, despite the fact that the average salary in this industry can approach $75,000. Historically, Western Massachusetts has been left out of the red-hot economy in the eastern part of the state. Part of that problem is a gap between the number of well-paying, stable manufacturing jobs and the number of local residents who can fill them. 

Solution

Senator Eric Lesser has proposed an idea to provide advanced manufacturing training to unemployed and underemployed individuals, including veterans, to build a locally based, highly qualified manufacturing workforce across Massachusetts, particularly in the western Massachusetts where manufacturing was the key employer for 10 generations. The precision manufacturing pilot program is already operating in Western Massachusetts and has resulted in an exciting partnership between the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, Inc. and the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association. Together these organizations are working with local community colleges, vocational schools and advanced manufacturing companies to train unemployed and underemployed individuals, career changers and youth across the region.


Problem

 “Patent trolls” tax our innovation economy by amassing thousands of cheap, second-rate patents and deploying them on unsuspecting small companies, claiming unauthorized use of their intellectual property. These companies gain the rights to patents for the sole purpose of profiting through litigation or licensing, rather than by producing their own bonafide goods or services. The number of patent lawsuits has increased tenfold since 2000, and more than 60% of all patent lawsuits are filed by these “non-practicing entities," up from 30% in 2009. And with an average lawsuit costing $1.6 million, the nefarious actions of patent trolls add up quickly. Settlements can cost upwards of $30,000, which can be devastating to a small start-up with limited capital. New companies are already at risk of failure for plenty of reasons apart from patent trolls unfairly gaming the legal system.

Solution

My legislation would protect innovation and entrepreneurship in the Commonwealth by prohibiting making a bad faith assertion of patent infringement and creating a legal means for companies to defend themselves from those litigating or threatening patent infringement litigation in bad faith. Studies have shown that in states with an already established VC presence, like Massachusetts, the passage of anti-troll laws leads to a 19% increase in the number of firms receiving VC funding, and my legislation can help us realize that economic potential.


Problem

“Patent trolls”, often called non-practicing entities, will threaten to file patent infringement lawsuits against companies in bad faith. What is clear, however, is that these patent trolls are designed to shake down innovators. Specifically, patent trolls amass thousands of cheap, second-rate patents and deploy them on unsuspecting small companies, claiming unauthorized use of their intellectual property. These companies then gain the rights to patents for the sole purpose of profiting through expensive litigation or licensing, rather than by producing their own bona fide goods or services. The cost of these bad faith assertions nationwide is significant and should not be overlooked.

Solution

My bill aims to make it easier for companies to defend themselves against “patent trolls”. Specifically, this bill sets very clear stipulations for demand letters that are sent to companies in order to help curb this abusive practice. For example, the sender must 1) reveal who they are; 2) disclose which patent they believe is being violated; 3) identify how they believe the recipient is infringing; or 4) allow the recipient sufficient time to review and respond to the claims. If the sender fails to fulfill any of these requirements, this bill allows the targeted business or individual to initiate a private cause of action against the patent troll. This legislation also creates exemptions for good faith assertions of patent infringement.


Problem

While Massachusetts consistently ranks first in education when compared to the rest of the country, there are still many schools and school districts that have fallen behind and are in need of improvement. As legislators, it is our job to find methods and models of education that provide standards and guidelines to our schools, teachers and administrators while also creating enough flexibility in schools and allowing educators to make necessary changes that will provide a better learning environment for our students.

Solution

My legislation would allow for statewide expansion of the Springfield Empowerment School Zone model - a partnership between the state, school officials and the teachers’ union in which select schools in a district operate autonomously, under control of an independent board of directors, gaining flexibility in the following areas: curriculum, budget, school schedule and calendar, staffing, professional development and school district policies and procedures. The Empowerment Zone model enabled eight middle schools in Springfield to build on current systems and preserve local talent, while simultaneously bringing in new talent and making improvements elsewhere. As Massachusetts determines the best path forward to improve struggling schools and close the achievement gap, the Empowerment Zone model has emerged as key strategy, hinging on school level autonomy and accountability, along with a focus on an explicit inclusion of local voices.


Problem

When people are employed as part-time workers or independent contractors, they are less likely to have access to traditional benefits and more likely to face financial and personal stress. American workers have traditionally relied upon their employers to provide the social guarantees that allow individuals and families to prosper, including health insurance, workers compensation, retirement plans, paid sick leave, life insurance, etc. However, as employers embrace the “gig economy” and move to hiring independent contractors and other non-traditional workers, benefits are no longer required or provided. Due to the instability that is inherent to so much of their work, non-traditional workers have a serious need for workplace benefits.

Solution

To establish a fund that allows policy experimentation to see what works in order to ensure the dignity and security for workers and their families in a rapidly changing economy. The purpose of my bill, An Act establishing portable benefits for independent workers innovation fund, does just that. It establishes a statewide program that will encourage employers and organizations to find innovative ways to provide this growing independent workforce with access to many of the social insurance protections that are typically provided to workers through traditional full-time employment.


Problem

At the end of 2016, there were 44 million Americans with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. In Massachusetts, the average amount of debt per student is $31,466, seventh highest. As government grants and scholarships have not kept pace with the ballooning costs of attending college, students struggling to pay back their loans become prime targets by student loan servicers that are virtually unregulated in Massachusetts. Abusive debt collection practices add insult to injury for students burdened debt that threatens their long-term economic security. Borrowers who are delinquent on payments or in default on a student loan are especially at risk, which was about 25% of all borrowers in 2015 according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Solution

My legislation establishing a student loan bill of rights provides strong protections and education for our student borrowers, while holding student loan servicers accountable to higher standards of practice. While legal action against student loan servicer misconduct has been widespread on both the state and federal level, we must establish a protective state framework surrounding debt repayment by student borrowers.  This Bill of Rights protects borrowers by: establishing a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Division of Banks to educate students about their rights as borrowers, field complaints about loan servicers, and analyze student loan data for potential regulatory or legislative changes while making all data available through public record; requiring that student loan servicers be licensed in Massachusetts and operate under state-mandated standards of conduct; and giving the Bank Commissioner access to all records and evidence from student loan servicers to conduct investigations and enforce any violation of standards of conduct for the purposes of initial licensing, license renewal, suspension, revocation, or termination.


Problem

Smaller cities throughout Massachusetts have experienced much slower economic recoveries from the recession, making it harder for entrepreneurs in these areas to successfully launch and grow their businesses. 

Solution

Senator Eric Lesser proposed legislation this year to offer a tax credit for investors looking to fund high-tech small businesses in small and medium-sized cities across Massachusetts. The tax credit would equal 10% of an investor’s investment in a business, if the business is a small one located in a Gateway City with 75% of its employees working in Massachusetts. This will encourage venture capitalists and other investors to look outside traditional tech centers like Cambridge and help entrepreneurs in other parts of the state get the resources they need to be successful.


Problem

In the wealthy Boston suburbs, housing prices and rent are rising sharply, affordable housing is difficult to find, traffic is a nightmare, and the city is overcrowded. But travel west and the picture is completely different. Housing prices are among the lowest in the state, cost of living is much lower, and there are great open spaces and incredible cultural assets. However, because Western Massachusetts has a graying population, the region’s population growth is slowly declining, and this decline has presented a self-reinforcing cycle of challenges - not enough jobs causes many of the area’s young people to leave, which causes a decline in school enrollments, leading to less state aid and fewer workers to support the region’s businesses.

Solution

My bill creates a pilot grant program that incentivizes workers to relocate to Western MA, allocating $1 million in a three-year incentives period to eligible new citizens on a first come first served basis. These grants will fund the relocation expenses of remote workers and telecommuters who move to Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin or Berkshire County. The purpose of the grant is to help offset the cost of moving, including buying computer software and hardware, obtaining or increasing broadband access, and/or establishing membership in a co-working office space. Qualified remote workers that are eligible for reimbursement would receive a maximum of $5,000 per year, and a total maximum of $10,000 per worker over the life of the program.


Problem

The amount of student loan debt in our country and state is at crisis level. Some 44 million Americans carry student loans totaling more than $1.5 trillion, and in 2016 someone defaulted on a student loan every 28 seconds. In Massachusetts, roughly 855,000 residents owe $33 billion in student loans (107% growth from 2007-2017) and nearly 95,000 residents in Massachusetts are delinquent on student loan payments. To make matters worse, Education Secretary DeVos has rolled back protective provisions included in the Obama Administration’s Student Aid Bill of rights, such as holding loan servicers accountable for providing accurate information to borrowers about their debt, and preventing loan servicers from slapping excessive fees on borrowers.

Solution

My bill works to beef up the Attorney General’s Student Loan Assistance Unit, create a student loan ombudsman and give that position the teeth to defend the interests of student borrowers. The ombudsman would ensure that student borrowers are notified of their rights and are not getting cheated. The ombudsman would also be responsible for helping borrowers explore repayment options, apply for income-driven plans, avoid or remove a default, end wage garnishments, resolve billing disputes, obtain loan details and stop harassing phone calls. My bill works to create a one-stop customer service, giving students a place to get questions answered and to send complaints. There would finally be a dedicated advocate for students and their families.


Problem

Time and again, servicemembers reentering the civilian workforce find that their military credentials do not entirely align with civilian requirements for a similar job. This can lead to a well-qualified servicemember being unemployed while he or she works to get his or her state-mandated credentials together. At the end of 2016, there were 8,000 unemployed veterans living in Massachusetts, representing 4.6% of the workforce. We can do more for those 8,000 veterans, many of whom may be unemployed due to their military occupational specialty not translating to the civilian workforce.

Solution

My legislation would aid military servicemembers in finding civilian employment by making information on civilian credentialing opportunities available to servicemembers and veterans, helping them make the best decisions on which occupational specialties to pursue during service for their desired profession post-service. This bill also aims to correct burdensome licensing requirements that keep some servicemembers from jobs they're qualified for — helping to correct licensing misalignment through greater transparency of these credentials and requirements. In addition, the bill requires exchange of information about often nuanced requirements to address considerable misunderstanding by both military and civilian employers about what the other requires for equivalent jobs, while also establishing an online resource to make information easily accessible.