House Passes Legislation to Improve Public Records Laws

BOSTONRepresentative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representative to pass legislation that updates the state’s public records laws and enhances accountability measures. This legislation enumerates a timeframe and process in which requested documents must be produced and ensure that judicial remedies can be sought.
“This is a comprehensive and long overdue piece of legislation that will provide a standardized process for the public to attain access to records,” said Representative Benson. “As it has been more than 40 years since our public record laws have been updated, I gladly co-sponsored this bill at the beginning of the legislative session, and was proud to join my colleagues in passing it before the Legislature recessed for holiday break.”
This legislation requires municipalities and agencies to designate a records access officer to assist the public and facilitate timely responses. To create a predictable and rigorous timeline for responses, the bill mandates that records access officers comply with a request within ten business days of receipt. If the officer is unable to do so, he or she must contact the requester to identify pertinent documents, provide a fee estimate, and specify why more time is needed. The bill caps the amount of time that may be taken for a response. Agencies must comply within 60 days, and municipalities must comply within 75 days. An extension may only be granted one time.
 
To ensure that the public can access records for a reasonable fee, agencies and municipalities will be prevented from charging for the initial time spent responding to a request, unless that request exceeds two hours for municipalities and four hours for agencies. The judicial provisions, processes, and remedies contained in this bill significantly heighten enforceability and accountability measures. Previously, courts were unable to award attorney fees, address improperly incurred costs, or award civil damages.
 
With changes included in the bill, records must be provided electronically, and agencies must post commonly requested public records online. Records access officers will keep track of requests, response times, and fees charged.
 
This bill follows the launch of free public WiFi to the State House and the Legislature’s updated website, which received the Online Democracy Award, initiatives intended to expand public engagement.

Representative Benson & Senator Eldridge Announce MassDEP Grant for Shirley Recycling Program

Shirley – Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) announced today that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded the Town of Shirley a grant worth approximately $7,700 through the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program (SMRP). The grant will allow Shirley to participate in the DEP’s Mattress Recycling Initiative for the transportation and recycling of discarded household mattresses for the next 2 years.

“I want to thank the Baker-Polito Administration for partnering with Shirley to help expand their recycling program,” said Representative Benson. “This grant will allow the town to recycle more, help the environment, and provide a better quality of service to their residents.”

“We all know that recycling is something that we are supposed to do as responsible citizens,” said Senator Eldridge. “I applaud the Baker-Polito Administration and the Department of Environmental Protection for securing this vital grant for the Town of Shirley to protect our earth, encourage recycling, and ultimately make it easier for people to do.”

This grant will pay for the cost of recycling household mattresses that are collected and recycled by one of three mattress recycling companies the state contracts with. 90 percent of a mattress’ components are recyclable, and recycling is the preferred waste-management method since mattresses are bulky and costly to dispose of in landfills and incinerators.

The SMRP was created under the Green Communities Act, and offers funding for recycling, composting, reuse, and source reduction activities that will reduce the amount of waste in landfills and incinerators. Waste prevention and recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions by capturing the embodied energy in waste and converting these sources into new products with a smaller carbon footprint.

Representatives Benson & Atkins, Senator Eldridge Announce MassDEP Grant for Acton Recycling Program

ACTON –  Representatives Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), Cory Atkins (D-Concord), and Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) announced today that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded the Town of Acton a grant in the amount of $7,500 through the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program (SMRP), which will allow the town to purchase a mixed paper compactor for their transfer station and recycling center.

“I want to thank the Baker-Polito Administration for partnering with Acton to help expand their recycling program,” said Representative Benson. “This grant will allow the town to recycle more, help the environment, and provide a better quality of service to their residents.”

“Acton has been at the forefront of recycling and sustainability for many years, and these funds will allow the residents to continue working towards a greener community,” said Representative Atkins.

“We all know that recycling is something that we are supposed to do as responsible citizens,” said Senator Eldridge. “I applaud the Baker-Polito Administration and the Department of Environmental Protection for securing this vital grant for the Town of Acton to protect our earth, encourage recycling, and ultimately make it easier for people to do.”

The SMRP was created under the Green Communities Act, and offers funding for recycling, composting, reuse, and source reduction activities that will reduce the amount of waste in landfills and incinerators. Waste prevention and recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions by capturing the embodied energy in waste and converting these sources into new products with a smaller carbon footprint.

Solar Energy Legislation Lifting Net-Metering Cap Sent to Conference Committee

BOSTON – Legislation that would have immediately raised the net-metering cap while providing for a long-term roadmap for future solar development beginning once Massachusetts reaches its 2020 solar energy goal has been sent to a Conference Committee.
 
After months of negotiations, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) joined her colleagues in the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon to pass legislation that would provide a stopgap measure to lift the net-metering cap, while the House continues to work on omnibus energy legislation. The bill was then sent to the Senate, where an additional amendment was offered. At the end of session on Wednesday evening, the Speaker of the House and Senate President decided to appoint a Conference Committee to hash out the differences that the Senate amendment introduced to the House’s version of the bill.
 
“The bill we passed in the house this week was a way for the Legislature to address immediate issues, such as raising the net metering cap, and getting projects off the waitlist, while we continue to work on a more omnibus energy bill,” said Representative Benson.
 
Both the House and Senate agreed to a 2 percent raise on net-metering for private and public facilities. This immediate cap increase would allow the majority of net-metering projects currently in the development pipeline to progress. The change represents a 44 percent increase of the overall cap.
 
Differences between the two bills include how to reimburse solar producing customers for the energy they generate. The House’s version included a minimum bill for customers’ in order to offset the utilities’ costs for maintaining infrastructure. The minimum bill requirement ensures that all ratepayers using the distribution system help pay for the maintenance, reliability, and safety of the electric grid. Additionally, the House’s bill requires the Department of Energy and Resources (DOER) to create a new, less-costly incentive program that reflects a mature solar industry.
 
Representative Benson argued in the House to ensure that all solar projects that are developed prior to the Commonwealth reaching the 1600MWs mark will be grandfathered in under existing incentive programs for 25 years. The final House bill included 20 years, while the Senate amendment included a grandfathering clause for solar projects to be covered under currently defined law from 30 years after the date of interconnection.
 
The House will focus on advancing its work on a more comprehensive energy bill in 2016, which will address other renewable energy sources, such as hydropower.
 
“Since I was elected to serve the 37th Middlesex District, I have been committed to working on policies that invest in renewable energy, and provide resources and incentives for residents to be a part of the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals” said Representative Benson. “The House is currently working on a larger energy bill, and I want to make sure we are prepared for these continued discussions, as well as ready to propose solutions to guarantee sustainability of the solar industry. In order to ensure that this is an open conversation, I will be hosting an event in the district in the coming months to receive feedback from community members. I am hopeful that this forum will allow us to have a transparent discussion about the solar bill passed in the House this week, and the Commonwealth’s solar energy moving forward.”
 
Representative Benson will be announcing a solar event to continue the conversation in the district in the upcoming weeks.

 

Attorney General Healey Announces Proposed Consumer Protection Regulations for Daily Fantasy Sports Operations

Today the Attorney General laid out first-of-their-kind consumer protection regulations for the Daily Fantasy Sports industry that are aimed at protecting consumers who engage in daily fantasy sports. In my role as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure I paid close attention to the announcement by Attorney General Healey and am pleased to see provisions that protect minors, require greater disclosures by daily fantasy sports operators, and attempt to make daily fantasy sports fairer by establishing a tiered system of play.

I believe these draft regulations will help level the playing field between beginners and experienced fantasy sports players and will increase transparency around the industry. This is a great first step in the work being done to make sure Massachusetts’ laws keep up with an industry that is both new and rapidly evolving within the Commonwealth. I look forward to reviewing the regulations in detail over the coming days.

The complete proposed draft regulations, along with additional information and next steps, can be found on the Attorney General’s website: http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/consumer-information/dfs/

 

Representative Benson’s Monthly Office Update: September/October 2015

Around the District

It has been an eventful fall in the 37th Middlesex District for my staff and I, with an Eagle Scout ceremony, two ribbon-cuttings, municipal meetings, and events.

In September, I provided the Ayer Board of Selectmen with a legislative update, where I discussed several bills before the legislature related to municipal matters. Also in Ayer, there was a celebration of New England Apple Day at JP Sullivan & Company, where my staff was treated to a tour of the apple processing facility.

LTGov

With Lt. Governor Polito and Rep. Jim Arciero at the Community Compact signing.

I attended a signing of a Community Compact between Acton, Boxborough, and the Commonwealth with Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Representative Jim Arciero.

On September 20, I stopped by the 28th annual Acton-Boxborough Democratic Picnic, where I met with constituents and spoke about the importance of inclusive, respectful politics.

In October, I participated in two ribbon-cuttings. The long-awaited ribbon cutting for the new Ayer-Shirley Regional High School (ASRHS) was held on October 9. I had gotten a sneak peek at the school the week before, when I met with the ASRHS FIRST Robotics team. Having toured the building several times during construction, it was satisfying to see the completed project. The state-of-the-art high school will serve students in the towns for years to come. I also attended the grand opening of the new Dragonfly Wellness Center in Devens, and presented the business owner with a citation from the House of Representatives honoring her achievement.

WWII Pinning

Pinning a WWII veteran who served as a nurse in the U.S. Coast Guard over 70 years ago.

On October 23, I co-hosted an event with Representative Sheila Harrington to honor World War II veterans. The event, called Heroes Remembered, drew 100 World War II veterans and 400 attendees from all over the state, with some veterans traveling from as far as Martha’s Vineyard and Pittsfield. Governor Charlie Baker attended and spoke, and we presented veterans with commemorative pins to thank them for their service. It was a touching event, and it was a privilege to be able to honor the Commonwealth’s World War II veterans.

Committee Update

Beacon Hill has been very active lately. In October and November, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure (CPPL), on which I serve as House Chairman, held six legislative hearings. The Committee heard and reviewed testimony on over 100 bills, on topics including liquor licenses, electronics repair, and robo-calls.

Chairing a hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

Chairing a hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

As part of my duties as House Chair of CPPL, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives about H.3806, An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealings. The bill, which will protect private property and reduce scrap metal theft, was passed by the House unanimously.

Legislative Update

In the past two months, a number of bills that I sponsored were heard in their respective committees. H.624, An Act Relative to the Prevention of Hazardous Materials Release, was heard by the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The bill would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to act to contain dangerous materials with the permission of a property owner or municipality. H.515, An act to increase the personal needs allowance for residents of long term care facilities, was heard by the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs. H.515 would raise the monthly personal needs allowance for nursing and rest home residents for items not covered by MassHealth.

House Session Update

The House passed several pieces of important legislation in September and October, including a bill criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl, an opioid designated only for medical use. Under existing law, drug traffickers can only be charged with manufacturing, dispensing, and possessing fentanyl. If it were to become law, this bill would add trafficking to the list of crimes. Attorney General Maura Healey praised the House of Representatives for their passage of the bill, and urged the Senate to pass the legislation as well.

Looking Ahead

I would like to remind you that the Massachusetts Health Connector Open Enrollment period began on November 1, and runs until January 31, 2016. If you have already signed up for a Health Connector health insurance plan, and you are satisfied with that plan, you do not need to do anything. Your coverage will be renewed, although your premiums may change. If you are not satisfied with your plan, or if you do not have health insurance, you can explore your options at MAHealthConnector.org. My office is available to direct constituents to helpful resources, should you require assistant with using the Health Connector

You can reach my State House office by calling (617) 722-2014, or by emailing me at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov. My District office can be reached by calling (978) 582-4146.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson