Acton Boxborough School Committee Thursday Night

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I just wanted to let you all know that I will be appearing before the Acton Boxborough School Committee Thursday night, February 26, at 7pm in the RJ Grey Junior High Library. We will be discussing the Chapter 70 formula, and in particular the funding assumptions regarding special education costs.

So many districts struggle with the cost of ensuring a high quality education for all students. I hope this presentation helps the Committee and the public better understand how the Commonwealth approaches school funding.

~Jen

Transportation Fix More Complicated

There’s been a lot of talk about the MBTA and our transportation system here in the Commonwealth for good reason, it has become a hardship no one should have to endure, impacting businesses and families.  The talk has now begun to focus on not necessarily solutions, but on who to blame.  The Pioneer Institute has been giving this some thought too, and although I don’t always agree with the Institute, their thoughtful response is thorough, balanced and considers both the operational and infrastructure decisions that have been made in recent history. Read it here:

http://pioneerinstitute.org/better_government/pioneer-institute-statement-on-the-mbta/

Their appraisal matches what I have been seeing and worrying about for some time.  Expanding lines and services without first fully grappling with the existing system is not an answer, it is a problem.  Governor Patrick’s funding proposal last session also focused on expansion, adding and extending lines, without first focusing on and dealing with existing issues.  The legislature has in fact been working on some of these historical issues in recent years.  First, in 2009, a reform package addressing some of the the pension system cost drivers and streamlining agencies around all of transportation and a sales tax increase dedicating new revenue to the T.  Then in 2013 the Legislature passed a bill adding $805 million in new revenue to transportation through the gas tax, tech tax and redirected fee revenues to transportation.  Well, we know how that turned out, the new taxes were repealed.  In 2014, the Legislature passed a $2.5 Billion bond bill for transportation infrastructure.  From 2009 to 2013 the MBTA’s revenue has grown, as has it’s budget.

What we still haven’t done is make up for decades of underfunding and substandard maintenance and that will take money, but it is also going to take creating a plan that reflects more than just more money and pushing for service and infrastructure expansions.  It will take a thorough assessment of needs, both operational and capital, and a larger conversation of transportation expectations for inside of 495 and the rest.  Transportation is one of the biggest and most basic things we do together, whether it is by rail or road.  It is going to take a plan that is about more than blame and increasing a line item to fix.

~Jen

Rep. Benson Attends an Open House for Acton’s Newest Business ‘Visting Angels’

On Thursday, February 5, 2015, Rep. Benson attended the ribbon cutting and open house for Visiting Angel’s new location here in Acton. Visiting Angels is a national in-home senior care company with local offices serving those across the 37th middlesex district and surrounding areas. Visiting Angels provides various types of elder care so that elderly adults are able to continue to live independently in their own homes. Rep. Benson was happy to welcome this wonderful new business to Acton.

Great day to celebrate a new business in the district!

Great day to celebrate a new business in the district!

The Open House and Ribbon Cutting was celebrated with a delicious treat.

The Open House and Ribbon Cutting was celebrated with this beautiful cake.

Monthly Update: January 2015

I hope everyone is staying safe and warm after the recent winter storms. As we continue into the winter season, please review and be aware of MEMA’s ‘before, during, and after winter storm tips’ (http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/mema/ready-massachusetts/winter-storms.html).   During extremely low temperatures and storm conditions, always remember to check on your neighbors, especially seniors, who may need assistance. The New Year brought many new changes including a new administration, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Senate President and many new members in the House and Senate. While we are seeing a lot of transition on Beacon Hill, I am looking forward to continue representing the 37th Middlesex District, and working with both new and old colleagues on key issues in the Commonwealth.

AROUND THE DISTRICT

The start of 2015 has been quiet in the district. Throughout the month of January, I met with a group of constituents in Harvard, and a group of individuals from the MNA, in Ayer, to discuss legislative priorities for the new session. On Jan. 17, I attended a presentation hosted by the North Central MA Development Corporation (NCMDC) and the Mass Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) regarding the North Central MA Collaborative Manufacturing Communities Growth Initiative Summary of findings and recommendations for the region moving forward. Over the course of the month I was in contact with various Ayer officials to discuss the ongoing Depot Square issues. Although the State Delegation was not included in the most recent meeting between the town, the property owner’s attorney, and the MBTA I have been kept in the loop by Ayer’s Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand and I am hopeful the MBTA’s most recent proposal will be accepted. This issue must be resolved as quickly as possible so MART can move forward with their parking project.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Drafting, and filing bills has kept my staff and I very busy over the last couple of months. Jan. 7th was the start of the new legislative session (2015-2016), and Jan. 16th was the bill-filing deadline. For the 2015-2016 legislative session, I filed twenty-four bills. Among those are thirteen new pieces of legislation, and eleven refiles.

The refiled bills are ones that did not get passed last session, but continue to be at the top of my priority list, such as spouses as caregivers (H1595), providing cost-effective, and high quality in-district programs for students with disabilities (HD1617), among others.

The thirteen new files involve topics that I have become increasingly interested in, including increasing campus safety (HD1900), access to healthy foods in school cafeterias (HD1902), expanding health care access through advance practice nursing (HD1878), and ensuring effective health care cost control (HD1107), among others.

Additionally, I refiled a Home Rule Petition, on behalf of the Town of Acton, An Act authorizing the town of Acton police patrol officers and superior officers to be exempt from the provisions of the Civil Service Law (HD1559). Although HD1559 is technically a bill, home rule petitions can be filed at any point in the session, and do not have a deadline. Representative Atkins (D-Concord) and Senator Eldridge (D-Acton) are co-sponsors of the home rule. Last session this bill only made it to the Joint Committee on Public Service, as we filed it very late in the session (December).

You can find the full list of bills that I filed this session by accessing https://malegislature.gov/People/Profile/JEB1. Please also visit my website to find a full list of the bills I filed, and summaries (www.jenbenson.org).

Lastly, February 4th was the co-sponsorship deadline. I want to express my gratitude to the constituents of the 37th Middlesex District and the various community organizations who have sent emails, letters, and called my office with their legislative priorities.   My staff and I did our best to provide timely responses, and take your comments into consideration when deciding which bills to co-sponsor. You can find the full list of bills I co-sponsored by accessing https://malegislature.gov/People/Profile/JEB1.

ON BEACON HILL

Now that the holidays are over and the new session has started, events and meetings are picking up on Beacon Hill. In January, my staff had the opportunity to attend the Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Worcester, hosted by the Massachusetts Farm to School Project. At the conference we gained a lot of insight, and feedback, which was helpful in composing my healthy eating in schools bill (HD1902) that I filed this session. At the State House, I met with a variety of organizations to discuss legislative priorities, including Mass Equality, and the Children’s League of MA.

HEALTH CARE FINANCING

In January, I joined a few of my colleagues and Mass-Care to host a legislative briefing to discuss universal health care as a right.  At the event, I had the opportunity to discuss my health care cost control bill (HD1107). HD1107 would require the state to compare our total health care spending with our projected health care spending every year if the Commonwealth implemented a single payer health care system.

REMINDER:

The Open Enrollment period to purchase health insurance through the Health Connector ends on February 15, 2015. You should take note of open enrollment if you are currently uninsured, your current healthcare premiums are costly and you would like to explore other options, or you are unsure if you are eligible for tax credits or assistance paying for insurance.

If you believe you are impacted by open enrollment and need to apply or re-apply, you can start your application by accessing https://www.mahealthconnector.org/. If you are unsure if the open enrollment period applies to you, please contact my State House office at 617-722-2430 and my staffers will be happy to assist you.

At our last open enrollment forum in November, my colleagues and I received a lot of feedback from small businesses requesting more information. In order to address their concerns I am co-hosting a Small Business Health Insurance Enrollment Forum with Rep. Hogan, Sen. Eldridge, The Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club of Nashoba Valley at the Maynard Town Hall, on Thursday, March 26, 2015 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Do you want to check out whether or not the Health Connector is the right tool for your business? Join us to learn more about the Affordable Care Act. At the forum, you can obtain information and materials to enhance your decision-making on whether or not a Health Care Connector Program is the best option for you, your employees, and your business! The program is currently open to businesses with less than 50 employees, and open enrollment is available on year-round basis.  You should attend the Enrollment Fair if any of the following is true:

  • You are the small business owner with 50 or fewer full-time employees.
  • You are an insurance broker and you would like to learn more about working with the Massachusetts Health Connector.
  • Your current small business healthcare premiums are too costly and you would like to “shop around”.
  • You would like to learn more about the Wellness Program available to small business owners through the Massachusetts Health Connector.
  • You would like to learn more about the Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit.
  • You are currently uninsured and would like to better understand what is available through the Health Connector.

Spread the word and join us for the Small Business Health Insurance Enrollment fair!

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.

Sincerely, Jen