I wanted to take a moment to provide you with an update. This time of the year is always busy on Beacon Hill, as we start to advocate for our legislative priorities, and prepare for the House budget debate in April.
Around the District
There was a lot going on in the 37th Middlesex District the past two months, and I was thrilled to be able to attend a lot of events, including a ribbon cutting at Visiting Angels, LWV-AA’s Annual Civics Bee, and a Recognition Dinner.
I also had the opportunity to meet with the Lunenburg Council on Aging, the North Central MA Chamber of Commerce, and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee. At the School Committee meeting, I gave a presentation that included an overview of Chapter 70 formula, and how it specifically impacts special education funding.
Throughout March and February, I also attend the MAGIC Legislative Breakfast, the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School Luncheon, Central MA Grown’s First Annual meeting, and Shriver Job Corps’ Quarterly CRC luncheon.
The commuter rail passenger platform access and safety issues continue to be an unresolved concern at the Depot Square train station in Ayer. Unfortunately, although there have been a few proposed plans between the Town, the property owner, the MBTA, and MART, there has yet to be a plan agreed upon in writing. My colleagues and I continue to be in touch with Ayer’s Town Administrator, Robert Pontbriand, and follow the issue closely.
At the State House
On Beacon Hill this month, I had the opportunity to meet with Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito, in my capacity as Co-Vice Chair of the MA Caucus of Women Legislators, to discuss our priority issues that affect women across the Commonwealth.
Among having many meetings to discuss bills and the budget, I also was able to meet with the MA Life Sciences Center, attend a briefing on Healthy Food, Local Jobs, Strong Communities, and had discussions concerning the possibility of Boston hosting the 2024 Olympics.
After School and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council (ASOST)
In the beginning of March I had the honor to be included in the speaking program at the MA Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs’ Annual Luncheon at the State House to discuss my work on the ASOST Council to date. It was an excellent opportunity to bring awareness to the ASOST Coordinating Council and emphasize the importance of investing in quality after school programs.
Mid-March Senator McGee and I facilitated our first site visit of 2015 for the ASOST Coordinating Council in the Culinary Arts Room at Everett High School. During the visit, we were able to hear recommendations on how the legislature can better support afterschool and out of school time programs from program leaders, such as Debbie Kneeland Keegan from For Kids Only (FKO) Afterschool. Additionally, we were able to discuss the Council’s first recommendation to our colleagues in the legislature, which is to use state funds to host a first of its kind student data sharing pilot in the state.
The House met for three full formal sessions, during the months of February and March, to consider, the House Rules and the Joint Rules of the Two Branches, An Act Addressing the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Shortfall (HB49), An Act providing for an employee retirement incentive program (HB3189), and An Act further providing for the financing of certain improvement to municipal roads and bridges (HB3187), among others. If you are interested in a real-time updates of the House schedule, you can do so by accessing the link https://malegislature.gov/Events/HouseSessions.
I was delighted to meet with and gain support of my healthy eating bill (H3221) from Mass Farm to School in March. House Bill 3221 is a new file and one of my top priorities this session, and I am looking forward to advocating for changing guidelines and expanding programs to increase healthy eating in public schools.
To review all twenty-five bills that I have filed this session, please visit my website (https://jenbenson.org/legislation/). If you click on the bill number/titles then you will be redirected to the MA Legislature website, where you can access the most up-to-date status of the bill and track it through the legislative process.
Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure
You may notice that my committee update each month is different. That is because with the new legislative session that started in January, we received new committee assignments. In early March, I was named as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.
Although consumer protection is a new issue area for me, I am looking forward to working on legislation that works to strengthen the rights of consumers and licensing policies. In my new capacity as Chair of the committee, I spent the month of March hosting a variety of organizations and lobbyists for introductory meetings and to review important bills that are currently in the committee, such as An Act to enhance consumer protection and transparency under the social work licensing law (HB157), An Act relative to telecommunications systems contractors and technicians (HB242), and An Act relative to special alcohol licenses for nonprofit organizations (HB248), among others.
As of March, the committee has been assigned over one hundred House bills to review. To find the full list of bills currently in the Consumer Protection Committee, you can access the link: https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J17.
Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) State Budget
It is that time of year again—budget season. Governor Baker released his fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget recommendations (House Bill 1) to the committee on House Ways and Means on March 5, 2015. You can review the Governor’s recommendations by accessing https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/House/H1 or http://www.mass.gov/bb/h1/fy16h1/.
In February, I met with Hose Ways and Means Chairman to discuss my top three priorities for the FY16 budget: Chapter 70 funding, local aid, and prison mitigation funding.
The House will release its’ version of the budget in the next couple of weeks, and we will have our FY16 budget debate at the end of April.
At the State House, I have also met with various groups to hear their FY16 budget requests, including YWCA Jane Doe Advocates, Health Care For All, MetroWest Legal Services and the Mass Life Sciences Center, among others.
In March, I hosted a Superintendents’ Luncheon with Representative Harrington (R-Groton) to have a discussion about their district budgets, fiscal requests and legislative priorities for the new session. In addition to the luncheon, I attended Fitchburg State University’s Annual Superintendents’ Breakfast as well. At the end of March, Senator Eldridge and I attended the Town of Shirley’s Board of Selectmen meeting to also discuss the municipal budget, and their priorities.
My staff and I attended the Mass Municipal Association (MMA) and MARS Legislative Breakfast to discuss FY16 budget concerns.
In the next couple of weeks, I am preparing to review HWM’s budget, to file amendments, and then debate the budget in the House. It has been great to meet with so many people, and receive literature on budget priorities. If you wish to bring a FY16 budget request to my attention, please contact Meagan Greene in my Boston office.
I want to thank all of you for communicating your concerns and priorities over the course of February and March. As always, I encourage each of you to keep in touch by contacting my office at 617.722.2014 or sending me an email at Jennifer.Benson@mahouse.gov.