House Passes FY17 Budget, Including Rep. Benson’s Amendments

(Boston) –April 28, 2017 Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives yesterday to unanimously pass the $39.5 billion House Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) budget, which provides robust increases to local aid and education funding.

Investments in local aid include a 4.3% increase to Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), and an all-time high in Chapter 70 education funding of over $4.61 billion, providing an increase of $55 per pupil over last year’s budget. Overall, in the last year, local aid and education funding has increased by $159 million.

“This is a strong budget,” said Representative Benson. “We substantially increased funding for education and general government aid, and we did not have to increase taxes or borrow from the stabilization fund.”

The towns of the 37th Middlesex District (Acton, Ayer, Boxborough, Harvard, Lunenburg, and Shirley) will all see increases to their UGGA funding, while the Harvard, Lunenburg, Acton-Boxborough Regional, Ayer-Shirley Regional, and Nashoba Valley Technical school districts will all see increases to their Chapter 70 educational funding.

The budget also continues the Legislature’s commitment to increase services for addiction treatment, with funding for an additional 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital.

Representative Benson filed and co-sponsored several amendments  that directly benefit the District, including funding for an additional van for the Acton and Maynard Senior Van Program, prison mitigation funding for the town of Shirley to support their hosting of the MCI Shirley facility, regional bonus aid for regional school districts formed after 2013, and Chapter 40S funding that benefits towns like Lunenburg that have created smart-growth zoning districts that include a high percentage of affordable housing units.

“I am proud that I successfully advocated for the towns of the 37th Middlesex District during the budget debate,” said Representative Benson. “The amendments I fought to be included in the House budget will benefit transportation, affordable housing, and education in the region.”

Additionally, the budget includes amendments supported by the Representative that benefit the entire Commonwealth, including language extending the expiration of the Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council, on which Representative Benson serves as Co-Chair, language changing the monthly personal needs allowance for nursing and rest home residents from “up to $72.80” to $72.80, and language requiring the Center of Health Information Analysis to factor rebates and discounts on pharmaceutical products into their healthcare cost analysis, which will result in more accurate data and higher quality public policies.

The budget now moves to the Senate, which will debate their version of it in May.

Special Education Breakthrough in FY 2017 House Budget

Boston, April 27, 2016 – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) successfully secured the inclusion of an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) House budget with language that would establish a commission to investigate and study the education services being provided to students with low-incidence disabilities, including autism, blindness, deafness, neurological impairment, and other rare disabilities that affect learning.

Representative Benson first filed this language during the 2009-2010 Legislative Session as a result of her experience as Chair of the Lunenburg School Committee.

“Having seen firsthand, small town school districts and families struggling to cope with the unpredictable costs and obstacles associated with individuals with low-incidence disabilities, I’ve been working to get this commission established for 7 years,” said Representative Benson. “Getting this language into the House budget is a triumph for school districts, families, and children affected by low-incidence disabilities.”

The commission would be tasked with reviewing available data concerning students with low-incidence disabilities, evaluating the quality of current special education programs for these students, identifying best practices for providing high quality services, and determining challenges and opportunities for ensuring coherent, appropriate, and cost-effective special education services. The commission would file a report of its investigation and recommendations within 2 years.

The language, as Amendment number 802, was included in Education and Local Aid consolidated Amendment A. Amendment A passed the House unanimously on Monday.

The Senate will take up the budget next.

Legislature Passes Solar Energy Bill, Lifts Net Metering Cap

BOSTON — April 11, 2016 –Last week, State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) voted with a bipartisan majority of the Massachusetts Legislature to enact solar legislation to lift the net metering cap in the Commonwealth and support the growth of the solar industry.

The legislation was the result of months-long conference committee negotiations between House and Senate leaders who were tasked with hashing out the differences between the chambers’ solar bills. The bill raises the net metering cap by 3 percent, and directs the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to establish an updated incentive program for solar producers. The legislation creates a long-term roadmap for the continued growth of solar power in the Commonwealth.

“The legislation that resulted from the conference committee process is not perfect, but it makes progress on the key issues,” said Representative Benson. “The bill raises the net metering cap and directs DOER to come up with a new incentive program. That is good news, and that is why I voted for it. I will be pushing for the legislature to go even further to support solar.”

“Energy policy is one of the most crucial issues facing the Commonwealth today,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “This bill and the more comprehensive efforts we will undertake later in the session will help foster a sustainable, renewable energy industry while ensuring ratepayers are treated fairly. I’m proud of the progress we’re making to strike a balanced approach that will serve our state’s environmental and economic needs both now and far into the future.”

This legislation ensures that Massachusetts will reach its goal of 1600 megawatts of solar installed in the Commonwealth. Upon reaching that goal, reforms to the net metering program will go into effect. As the solar industry matures and the cost of projects continues to decrease, the reformed program will guarantee that incentives also decrease to reduce the cost for ratepayers. Future projects will receive credits equal to 60% of the retail rate for electricity instead of the full retail amount.

Under this law, residential and municipally-owned systems are exempt from changes to the net metering program, and will continue to receive credits equal to the full retail rate. Additionally, projects installed prior to reaching 1600 megawatts will continue to receive current net metering rates for 25 years from the date of installation.

Finally, the bill directs the Department of Energy Resources to develop a new, long term solar incentive program to support the expanded use of solar beyond the Commonwealth’s 1600 megawatt goal. This program will prioritize low income, community-shared and municipal projects, and provides a foundation for the stable and continued growth of the solar industry.

Governor Baker signed the bill into law on Monday morning.

Representative Benson Delivers Testimony Against Pipeline at DPU Hearing

Lunenburg– April 6, 2016 – Last night, State Representative Jennifer Benson read the following statement at a hearing of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities on the topic of Tennessee Gas’s petitions 16-01, 16-02, and 16-03.

April 5, 2016

Department of Public Utilities
Siting Division
1 South Station Boston, MA 02110

ATTN: Stephen August, Hearing Officer

RE: Testimony by State Representative Jennifer Benson at Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Public Comment Hearing for: Northeast Energy Direct Survey Petitions

Dear Mr. August:

I have lived in Lunenburg for 20 years, and have had the privilege of representing Precincts A, C, and D of the town for 8 years as the State Representative for the 37th Middlesex District. I submit this letter of testimony objecting to the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline out of concern for the property rights and financial well-being of ratepayers, the environment, and the Commonwealth’s energy future.

The proposed Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline would disrupt sensitive conservation land, farmland, wildlife reserves, bodies of water, drinking water sources, and hundreds of parcels of private property. 432 citizens across the state have refused to allow Tennessee Gas surveyors to access their properties, and that is their right. 23 of these citizens are in Lunenburg. This town knows firsthand how disruptive natural gas pipelines can be, given our experience in 2009 with Tennessee Gas as they replaced a 6-inch pipeline with a 12-inch pipeline, and left swath of damage in their wake.

As if it were not enough that Tennessee Gas wants to tear up thousands of acres of Massachusetts land, they are now asking for electricity ratepayers to fund the destruction. Tennessee Gas’s proposal that ratepayers foot the bill for the pipeline through a series of new tariffs on their energy bills is astonishing and unprecedented. Tennessee Gas is the entity that stands to benefit from this pipeline, and they should be the ones to pay for it. Their proposed funding scheme is exploitative and unfair to Massachusetts ratepayers, and I join State Attorney General Maura Healey in imploring DPU to reconsider Order Number 15-37, which supports this misguided approach.[1]

Tomorrow, a letter signed by myself and dozens of my colleagues will be sent to the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, urging him to reject the tariff-based funding scheme as his office works to craft omnibus energy legislation.

We are at a turning point in the Commonwealth’s energy future. We can either double down on our reliance on high-cost, imported, nonrenewable fossil fuels, or we can use this opportunity to expand our development and use of renewable technologies such as solar, wind, and hydropower. In 2014, 59% of our electricity was generated by burning natural gas. This rate is much higher than the national average of 33%, and higher than the Northeast’s average, which is 40%.[2] Massachusetts is falling behind as an environmental and renewable energy leader because of our dependence on natural gas, and the construction of the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline would only see us fall further. Several independent studies have concluded that, despite Tennessee Gas’s alarmist claims, Massachusetts does not need this pipeline. According to a study by the State Attorney General, “[P]ower system reliability can and will be maintained over time, with or without additional new interstate natural gas pipeline capacity”, and “The pipeline solution fails to offer outcomes consistent with the climate change programs and goals of the New England states.”

It is for these reasons that I ask DPU to deny petitions 16-01, 16-02, and 16-03 of Tennessee Gas. Lunenburg residents have made their opposition to this pipeline clear, and I stand with them in asking that DPU deny the petitions of Tennessee Gas requesting orders allowing them to access private properties for the purpose of conducting geotechnical and other surveys without the permission of the landowners.[3]

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District

[1] http://www.mass.gov/ago/docs/energy-utilities/ag-initial-comments-to-dpu-15-37.pdf

[2] http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MA

[3] http://web1.env.state.ma.us/DPU/FileRoomAPI/api/Attachments/Get/?path=16-03%2f1of3PetitionforanOrderAuthoriz.pdf

 

Rep. Benson’s Testimony at 4/5/16 DPU Pipeline Hearing (PDF)

Representative Benson’s Monthly Office Update: March 2016

Around the District

In March, my staff and I attended more than a dozen events and meetings in the district. On the first of the month was a meeting of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Public Policy Committee. This month’s meeting was held at the Ayer District Courthouse, where the committee discussed the regional opioid crisis with the Honorable J. Elizabeth Cremens, First Justice of the Ayer District Court.

Later in the month, I attended the annual legislative breakfast of the Massachusetts Municipal Association in Lunenburg, where I heard from municipal employees about their legislative and budget priorities for FY 2017. My staff went to the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools legislative breakfast to learn about their priorities.

On March 5, I spoke at a forum sponsored by the Harvard League of Women Voters, where I was happy to discuss my experience as a member of the Lunenburg Town Charter Commission, as Harvard goes through the process of deciding whether to write their own charter.

I continued my series of meetings with town boards of selectmen, and met with the boards and Town Administrators/Managers of Boxborough and Acton. Next month, I will be meeting with the boards of Ayer, Shirley, and Lunenburg. It is important that I discuss each town’s budget concerns with them before the House Committee on Ways and Means releases their FY 2017 state budget in late April, so that I have time to advocate for their priorities, such as increased education and infrastructure funding.

Additionally, I attended Democratic Town Committee caucuses in Acton, Ayer, and Lunenburg.

At the State House

Presenting a citation to my constituent Liam Jones, who was elected Speaker of the House of the YMCA's 2016 Youth in Government program.

Presenting a citation to my constituent Liam Jones, who was elected Speaker of the House of the YMCA’s 2016 Youth in Government program.

My staff and I met with several visitors from the district at the State House last month, including Liam Jones, who, in addition to being an intern in my office last summer, was elected as the Speaker of the House of the Commonwealth’s YMCA Youth in Government Program. I presented Liam with a citation honoring him for his achievement and wished him luck as he pursues a career in public service.

On March 9, I hosted a School Chefs Day briefing, where I spoke about my legislation, H.3221, An Act relative to healthy eating in school cafeterias. The event featured food prepared by Paul Correnty, a chef at the Bromfield School in Harvard, which is known for serving some of the most nutritious and high-quality school food in the Commonwealth.

With Bromfield School Chef Paul Correnty at an event highlighting nutritious, healthy school food.

With Bromfield School Chef Paul Correnty at an event highlighting nutritious, healthy school food.

I visited the Edward Kennedy Institute in Boston to speak with students from the Bromfield School about public service as part of the Institute’s Senate Immersion Program. My staff and I also attended briefings hosted by the Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs, Massachusetts Library Association, and Montachusett Regional Transit Authority.

With March being Women’s History Month, I had a role in several events organized by the Massachusetts Caucus of Women’s Legislators, on which I serve as the House Vice Chair. These included my delivery of the closing remarks at the Caucus’s Women’s History Month Celebration on March 23, where I talked about our fight for the right to vote, and the legacy of Alice Paul, who was a pioneer in the Suffragist Movement of the early 20th Century.

Speaking at an event celebrating Women's History Month at the State House.

Speaking at an event celebrating Women’s History Month at the State House.

 

Legislative Update

Last month, the House passed several important pieces of legislation, including a bill establishing regulations for the ride-for-hire industry. If it were to become law, the bill would create a state division to oversee regulation of the sector, and require background checks for drivers.

On March 30, the House passed H.4095, An Act Financing Improvements to Municipal Roads, which frees up $200 million for reimbursements to towns and cities for road and bridge improvements and repairs.

The House also passed, and I voted for, S.2021, An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspension. The bill was signed by Governor Charlie Baker on March 30, and repeals a law which automatically suspended the drivers’ licenses of those convicted of drug crimes, even if the crimes were not related to the operation of motor vehicles.

Committee Update

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure has concluded legislative hearings for the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, but continues to analyze the legislation given an extension date of June 15th, as well as prepare for the 2016-2017 Legislative Session.

Budget Season

I continued to review letters and emails from constituents who have contacted my office with their concerns about, and priorities for, the FY 2017 budget. I will continue to consider these as the House Committee on Ways and Means prepares to release their FY 2017 budget in mid-April.

Looking Ahead

There are many upcoming events I will be attending in the district in April, including a Department of Public Utilities hearing on the proposed Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline, receptions honoring recipients of local cultural council grants, and of course boards of selectmen meetings. The House will begin debating and voting on the FY 2017 budget the last week in April.

I encourage you to reach out to my State House office at (617) 722-2014, or via email at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov. My District office can be reached at (978) 582-4146.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson