February was a very busy month this year. I was able to join members of the District in being recognized for accomplishments, attend many events, and hold meetings at the State House.
Around the District
Good news for communities in the District—The Town of Acton and partnering Communities, on behalf of CrossTown Connect, received a Fiscal Year 2014 CIC Grant, and the Town of Lunenburg was designated as a Green Community.
In recognition of these accomplishments, I was able to join Doug Halley, Acton Public Health Director, and Franny Osman, from the Acton Transportation Advisory Committee, at the State House, as Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor announced CrossTown Connect as a recipient. I also joined David Blatt, Chair of Lunenburg Energy Committee, and John Londa, Director of Facilities and Grounds for Lunenburg School Department, in Westford, as Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Rick Sullivan Jr. and the Department of Energy and Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia, recognized Lunenburg’s achievement in becoming a Green Community. The municipality received a certificate from the Commonwealth and a road sign identifying it as Green Community. The Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities Division officially designated the town in December, recognizing achievements in meeting five clean energy benchmarks.
During the month, I was able to attend an Eagle Scout Ceremony in Acton, and receive a tour and briefing at Care Dimensions in Danvers, MA. Care Dimensions serves many constituents from the district, and are hoping to build an inpatient hospice facility in the region.
At the end of the month, my staff and I held office hours in the district. We were at the town halls in Acton, Ayer, and Shirley. Office hours are a great opportunity to discuss local or individual issues. However, it is also a great opportunity to catch up and say hello. I will be holding offices hours quarterly. The next date will be in May, and will be in Boxboro, Harvard, and Lunenburg. We are going to do some evening hours, so more people have the opportunity to stop by. Keep an eye out for the office hour announcements in the local papers through April and May.
At the State House
February was a busy month at the State House. In the beginning of the month, I joined many colleagues, the MA Women’s Legislative Caucus, and the American Heart Association in celebrating the 11th Annual Go Red for Women day. Go Red for Women Day brings awareness to heart disease, as the No.1 killer of women. My staff and I also attended the 13th Annual Civil Legal Aid Constituent Services Briefing, the MassDOT Performance Management Public Accountability meeting, a briefing on Engaging in Public-Private Partnerships, the Labor and Workforce Development Committee’s Briefing on Helping Constituents Navigate the Job Training System, and the Mass Service Alliance Briefing. Each briefing provided a significant amount of information that will be useful to assist constituents in need.
During the middle of the month, it was great to see many familiar faces from cultural councils in the district at the State House to celebrate Mass Cultural Council Legislative Day.
Throughout the entire month, I met with many different organizations, and constituents, to discuss various bills, such as the breast density bill (H.1050), protecting children and families from harmful flame retardants (S.1931), patient medication adherence (S.439), patient prescription records (S.543), patient financial protection (S.477), and prevailing wages (H.1752), among others.
Health Care Financing Committee
On January 21, 2014, Representative Steven Walsh (D-Lynn) resigned as Chairman of the Health Care Financing Committee, to take a new position as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals. In 2013 when I was appointed Vice-Chair of the Committee, I was anxious for the work ahead of me. However, Representative Walsh was the best mentor I could have. During his time serving the people of Lynn, Steve was a lead player in drafting the 2012 health care cost control and reform law, in essence making landmark changes in health care for the Commonwealth, and setting a high bar for the Country. His leadership, advocacy, and mentorship are qualities I admire in a colleague, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside him in the General Court, and on the Committee. Moving forward, I will be acting as the interim Chair for the Health Care Financing Committee, until a new Chairperson is appointed. I am working with Senate Chair James Welch and his staff to schedule hearings and report bills out of the committee.
The Health Care Financing Committee did not hold a hearing in February to discuss legislation. However, the Committee did conduct a public hearing mid-February to take testimony and gather information on the expansion of access to health care in the Commonwealth through the Affordable Care Act. The Committee invited the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, Executive Office of Health and Human Services, MA Health Connector, and the Office of Medicaid to submit testimony. The hearing provided an opportunity for Legislators to receive an update on the status of the Health Connector website, and applications. Since the hearing, I have been regularly updated by the Health Connector staff.
Additionally, Chairman Welch and I hosted a MA Health Connector/MassHealth constituent services briefing for Legislators and staff.
Additional Committee Updates
The Joint Committee on Public Service held two public hearings in February to discuss a variety of bills, and the MBTA Retirement Fund.
The House met for two full formal sessions in February. In the beginning of the month, we met to discuss An Act relative to natural gas leaks (H.3765). The bill was engrossed in the House by a roll call vote of 147-0. The bill establishes a Gas Expansion Program which makes natural gas service available to new consumers and allows companies to offer financing programs to those switching to natural gas. This should result in cost savings for households, business and municipalities.
The House also passed a Supplementary Budget that allocates $2.78 million to DCF, thus providing adequate funds to meet the department’s request of a 15:1 ratio, provides an additional $20 million for heating assistance and $45 million to provide low-income families with access to housing. Additionally, for the fifth consecutive year, we passed legislation to freeze a scheduled increase in the unemployment insurance (UI) assessment paid by all employers in order to relieve the average employer from an approximate 30 percent increase for UI per employee.
At the end of the month, the House engrossed an Anti-Bullying bill by a roll call vote of 143-4. This piece of legislation builds on the 2010 landmark anti-bullying bill by creating new reporting measures and recognizing certain populations as more vulnerable to bullying. The updates are designed to increase the efficacy of the original legislation which prohibited bullying and cyber-bullying, and required schools to establish related programs. The bill creates a data collection and reporting mechanism that will help educators, administrators and legislators identify trends and respond appropriately.
As budget season is here, my staff and I have been busy working with towns, organizations, and agencies to discuss fiscal year 2015 budget priorities. I attended legislative breakfasts at the Bolton Public Library, and Montachusett Home Care Corporation (MHCC). I received useful information from the Mass Board of Library Commissions, and Mass Home Care concerning FY15 budget and legislative priorities moving forward. My staff was also able to attend the Metrowest Library Legislative Breakfast at Lexington High School.
At the State House, my staff and I were able to attend the Special Education Circuit Breaker Funding Briefing, and hold many meetings to discuss priorities, such as funding for the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.
It is crucial for my staff and I to know your FY15 budget priorities in order for me to advocate for you when the House discusses the budget in April. As a reminder, on January 22, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick released his fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015) Budget Recommendations, which is referred to as House 2. Governor Patrick’s FY 2015 Budget Recommendations can be accessed at http://www.mass.gov/bb/h1/fy15h1/. Please contact me directly, or my staff, Catherine Bunker (Catherine.Bunker@MAHouse.gov), and Meagan Greene (Meagan.Greene@MAHouse.gov), should you wish to bring fiscal priorities to my attention.
I want to thank all of you for communicating your concerns and priorities over the course of the month. As always, I encourage each of you to keep in touch by contacting my office at 617.722.2430 or sending me an email at Jennifer.Benson@mahouse.gov.