Representative Benson Joins Legislature to Override Governor’s Vetoes

BOSTON – July 31, 2015 –This week, Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Legislature to take final action on the FY16 budget. The House and Senate joined together to override Governor Charlie Baker’s vetoes to vital education funding, local programs, and economic development initiatives.

“This is a responsible, balanced budget,” said Representative Benson (D-Lunenburg). “I was proud to join my colleagues in voting to override cuts to education, local aid, substance abuse treatment and other essential, effective programs.”

Recognizing the importance of providing statewide access to full-day kindergarten Representative Benson joined the Legislature to override a cut to kindergarten expansion grants, reaffirming her support for funding in the amount of $18.6 million.

The Legislature also took action to restore cuts to the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges. This week’s overrides include the restoration of $5.25 million for the UMass system, as the universities continue to distinguish themselves as pillars of excellence in public education and an economic driver for the Commonwealth. The Legislature’s budget as sent to the Governor also included a strong focus on early education and care (EEC). That commitment was reaffirmed through the restoration of $3.4 million in vetoes that support EEC programs and services.

“I strongly advocated for education during the budget debate, so I am pleased that we were able to restore funding to some of the key early and higher education line items, and ensure that the final FY16 budget reflects the Legislature’s recommended appropriations,” said Representative Benson.

Overriding the Governor’s vetoes, Representative Benson also voted to restore funding to the following education line items:

  • MassCAN: $1.7 million to establish widespread, progressive computer science curriculum in public school through a public-private match program;
  • STEM Starter Academy: $4.75 million to promote STEM careers at the Commonwealth’s community colleges;
  • Mass Tech Collaborative: $750,000 for the Mass Tech Collaborative Tech and Innovation Entrepreneurship program to establish entrepreneur and startup mentoring;
  • Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative: $500,000 for grants to support planning activities for pre-kindergarten and preschool programs, and to expand pre-kindergarten and preschool opportunities; and
  • Reach out and Read Program: $1 million to fund early literacy programs.

The Legislature also restored $5.17 million in cuts to the Office of Travel and Tourism and $2.37 million to the Massachusetts Cultural Council. These overrides include $150,000 for Acton’s beloved Discovery Museums, visited by thousands of children each year.

Additional overrides include:

  • More than $2.2 million for substance abuse treatment programs across the Commonwealth;
  • Restoration of funding for unaccompanied homeless youth housing services;
  • $3 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program for a total of $82.9 million to support about 1,000 new vouchers for families at risk of homelessness;
  • $600,000 restored for Family Health Services, bringing total funding to $5.62 million.

On Thursday, Representative Benson also voted with the Legislature to approve a bill creating a sales tax holiday on August 15 and 16, 2015. The legislation is designed to provide relief to consumers and increase sales for local businesses. As in previous years, the sales tax holiday will apply to purchases under $2,500, and excludes vehicles, motorized boats, tobacco, meals and utilities.

Representative Benson Votes to Approve FY 2016 Budget; Budget Sent to Governor Baker

BOSTON – July 9, 2015 – On Wednesday night, State Representative Jennifer Benson voted with the vast majority of the House of Representatives to approve the Conference Committee Report on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget.

“I was proud to vote with the overwhelming majority of the House to send the FY 2016 budget to the Governor’s desk,” said State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “This budget reflects the state’s values and priorities, and invests in areas that will have tremendously positive effects for the people in my district.”

The final budget comprises $38.1 billion in spending, a modest 3.5% increase over last year. Top priorities of Representative Benson were incorporated in the final budget, including regional bonus aid, an increase in regional school transportation funding, and prison mitigation funding for Shirley. Unrestricted General Government Aid was increased by 3.6%.

All of the school districts in the 37th Middlesex Districts will see increases in their Chapter 70 educational funding, ranging from 0.5% for Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, to 4.1% for Lunenburg Public Schools.

“Increased education funding is something I fought hard for during budget deliberations, and I’m happy to report that all of the public schools in my district will see increases in state funding,” said Representative Benson. “Across the state, funding for regional school transportation will increase by more than 12% to $59.021 million. That’s a big increase, and it will mean more money for teachers, books, and technology for our kids.”

Other education highlights of the FY 2016 budget include $271.7 million for special education circuit breaker funding, and $18.6 million for kindergarten expansion grants.

Additionally, priorities advocated for by local chambers of commerce made it into the budget, including budget line-item 7007-0801 for a $100,000 microlending grant, and line-item 7007-0150 for regional economic development organization program grant funding.

The budget also establishes an MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board to address cost and management problems, and revises MBTA procurement methods to allow for further cost reductions.

On January 1, 2016, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) maximum will be increased to $1,459, allowing some taxpayers to receive up to an additional $508 per year. The overall increase would assist approximately 415,000 working families who claim the credit. The scheduled FAS 109 corporate tax deduction was repealed to pay for the EITC increase.

New policy initiatives include state-sponsored substance abuse treatment and prevention programs to provide the drug Vivitrol to those suffering from opiate and alcohol addiction, a trust fund and program to allow municipalities to purchase the drug Narcan in bulk, and a new requirement that pharmacies report to the Department of Public Health information on all Schedule II-IV medication dispensed every 24 hours, instead of every 7 days.

The budget is now before Governor Charlie Baker for his final approval.

Area Legislators Celebrate Green Communities Grants

State Representative Jennifer Benson, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and State Representative Cory Atkins are pleased to announce that six towns across their districts have been awarded funding from the Department of Energy Resources for clean energy projects.

BOSTON – July 9, 2015 – Representative Jennifer Benson, Senator James Eldridge, and Representative Cory Atkins announced today that the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has awarded $1.15 million in grants to the towns of Acton, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Harvard, and Maynard to fund various clean energy and efficiency initiatives.

Projects funded include town-wide conversions to LED lighting, HVAC upgrades to school buildings, efficiency retrofitting of town facilities, installations of energy management systems, and replacements of inefficient climate control equipment.

“It is great news that Acton and Harvard have been awarded Green Communities grants from DOER,” said State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “Acton and Harvard have been leaders in the state when it comes to energy efficiency, and this funding means they can complete a number of important efficiency projects so that they can continue to serve as exemplary Green Communities.”

“I am pleased the Baker administration has provided Green Communities grants to the communities of Acton, Harvard, and Maynard,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “Each of these communities has made great strides in reducing energy use and embracing alternative energy since they first became Green Communities, and this additional state funding will allow them to do even more to combat global warming and reduce energy costs.”

“The environmental revolution started in Concord with Henry David Thoreau and is still alive and well,” said State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord). “It is only fitting that Acton, Carlisle, Chelmsford, and Concord should continue Thoreau’s legacy and be designated as a Green Communities.”

Across the state, these initiatives and others like them are projected to result in annual costs savings of $2.1 million, energy savings equivalent to the annual consumption of nearly 550 Massachusetts homes, and greenhouse gas reductions equal to removing more than 1,100 cars from the road.

“Our administration is proud to help Green Communities reduce their energy use so they can reinvest their financial savings in schools, police, fire, municipal infrastructure and other local initiatives,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Massachusetts’ leadership in energy efficiency continues to help municipalities around the state secure long-term energy savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

DOER officials notified the legislators of the grant award recipients yesterday afternoon. In total, 51 cities and towns across the Commonwealth designated as Green Communities were awarded $8,894,583 in funding. The grants are funded through proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctions and Alternative Compliance Payments under the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The 136 Green Communities across the state are home to more than half of Massachusetts’ population. All Green Communities commit to reducing their municipal energy consumption by 20 percent after five years.

Information on grant amounts and project details can be found here.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Office Update: June 2015

Around the District

At the groundbreaking for Phase 2A of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in Acton.

At the groundbreaking for Phase 2A of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in Acton.

June was a busy month in the district, with my staff and I attending numerous events and meetings in the area, including a tour of Acton’s Life Care Center, the Devens Robotica Exposition, the groundbreaking of Phase 2A of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, and the Lunenburg Boys and Girls Club’s 10th Birthday celebration.

I also had the pleasure of attending the Boxborough Fifer’s Day parade and ceremonies. Along with Senator Jamie Eldridge, I presented a citation honoring Ernie Fournier, the parade’s Grand Marshal. I also presented a citation to George Krusen II, the Golden Fife winner. Additionally, at a forum sponsored by the Harvard League of Women Voters, I heard from Harvard residents about their views on the warrants considered by the Devens Super Town Meeting.

The Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Public Policy Committee held a meeting on June 2 that I attended to provide a legislative update and discuss their policy goals and concerns. We had productive discussions about the state’s Film Tax Credit, prison mitigation funding for Shirley in the FY 2016 budget, and other legislative topics.

At a Farm to School Roundtable event in Devens, I spoke with the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association, emphasizing the critical role that educators play in making sure every student can access quality food while at school. Ensuring that cafeterias throughout the district and commonwealth serve healthy meals remains one of my priorities of the 2016-2017 Legislative Session.

On June 19, I toured the Healing Garden, located in Harvard, with Senator Eldridge. The Garden is a nonprofit that provides holistic care and alternative therapies for people affected by cancer.

I also presented citations at several Eagle Scout Ceremonies in Acton, and was a guest on WPKZ Fitchburg’s The Daily Pulse morning radio program.

At the State House

Sadly, on June 28, State Senator Thomas P. Kennedy of Brockton passed away. He served more than 30 years as a Massachusetts legislator, pledging his life and career to representing and aiding the people of his district. During my short time working with him as co-chairs of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, I gained an appreciation for the dedication and purpose Senator Kennedy brought to his work. He was a man with an exceptionally strong character and true pride in this state—he will be deeply missed.

Early this month, I chaired a hearing of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. The committee considered several bills, including legislation regarding licensing standards for drain-cleaners, and regulation of telecommunications systems contractors and technicians.

Presenting the Conant Elementary School Green Team with a citation honoring their work.

Presenting the Conant Elementary School Green Team with a citation honoring their work.

On June 9, I co-hosted a screening of The Hunting Ground and spoke on a panel discussing sexual assault on college campuses, and the need for better protections for our college students.

I also met with students from Acton’s Conant Elementary School at the State House, and congratulated them for winning the Massachusetts Elementary School of the Year award from the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project.

Legislative Update

I closely followed several bills that I sponsored as they progressed through committees this month, including An Act Relative to Eating Healthy in School Cafeterias (H. 3221), An Act Relative to Campus Safety (H. 3249), An Act Regarding Spouses as Caregivers (H. 70), and multiple special education bills (H. 308, H. 309, H. 310).

Additionally, the Home Rule Petition Senator Eldridge and I filed on behalf of the Town of Acton, An Act Exempting Certain Positions in the Police Department of the Town of Acton from the Civil Service Law (H. 2202), was signed into law by Governor Baker on June 30, 2015. The law went into effect immediately.

Looking Ahead
As always, I would like to encourage you to keep in touch by contacting my office at (617) 722-2014, or by emailing me at Jennifer.Benson@mahouse.com.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson