House Votes to Restore Funding for Critical Items in FY17 State Budget

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the House of Representatives on Saturday, July 23, in voting to restore $100 million in funding to important accounts in the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) state budget.

In July, Governor Baker signed the FY17 budget (H.4450), but sent back $256 million in spending vetoes and amendments to the Legislature.

“I was proud to join my colleagues in voting to restore funding to essential items, including early education and early voting, that are important not only to my district, but the Commonwealth as a whole,” said Representative Benson. “While we are continuing to remain thoughtful and fiscally responsible due to the unforeseen shortfall in projected revenue, we also need to ensure that we are keeping our commitments to our communities and to our most vulnerable citizens.”

The House voted to override nearly one hundred vetoes and restore funding to numerous programs, which include the Down Syndrome Clinic, an academic detailing program for prescribing physicians, reading programs such as the Center for the Book, and the Turning 22 program for adults with disabilities.

The House will convene for the final full formal sessions of the year next Saturday and Sunday.

House Passes Pay Equity Bill

BOSTON – On Thursday, July 14, State Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues to unanimously pass a bill requiring pay equity in the Commonwealth. The bill, An Act to establish pay equity (H.4509), aims to close wage gap among men and women in the workforce.

“Women only earn 82 cents to the dollar that men earn, but make up half of the Commonwealth’s workforce,” said Representative Benson. “That is an alarming disparity that should have been addressed a long time ago.”

H.4509 seeks to help eliminate the gender wage gap by providing more comprehensive definitions of comparable work, working conditions, and wages, and urges employers to complete internal reviews of their payroll to ensure equitable compensation within the industry standards.  Additionally, an employer found to be in violation of the pay equity laws will be required to pay unpaid wages and damages.

The bill, which received widespread support from the business community, not only aims to address pay equity among genders, but offers provisions that will protect all employees. The bill prevents employers from asking a prospective employee about their salary history, and inhibits employers from terminating or retaliating against employees for discussing their compensations with colleagues.

“I was proud to join my colleagues in this very important and long overdue vote on pay equity for women,” said Representative Benson.  “Passing this historic bill will allow us to start closing the unjustifiable wage gap among men and woman in Massachusetts.”

The House (H.4509) and Senate (S.2119) bills, which differ in a few instances, will now go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill.

Rep. Benson Hosts Ayer-Shirley FIRST Robotics Team at State House

BOSTON – On Wednesday, State Representative Jennifer Benson hosted an event at the State House featuring a presentation by students from the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School’s (ASRHS) FIRST Robotics Team.

In the Member’s Lounge of the House of Representatives, students delivered a presentation to legislators and their staffs about the FIRST Robotics program and its value. Noting that more than 75% of FIRST participants go on to study science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) in college, the students discussed the problem solving, time management, and other skills they have learned as team members.

The group also unveiled their MassFIRST campaign, which has the goal of getting a FIRST Robotics program up and running in every school district in the Commonwealth. Since launching the campaign last year, Andromeda One has crisscrossed Massachusetts promoting the benefits of FIRST Robotics, and has mentored several school districts as they start their own teams.

“I first met with the Ayer-Shirley team last October, and I thought what they were doing to spark an interest in kids to consider careers in STEM was incredible,” said Representative Benson as she introduced the students. “Their MassFIRST campaign is so admirable because they are taking what they have learned as a relatively new team, and are using that to help other school districts.”

After the presentation, attendees, including Representative Benson and other legislators, test drove the team’s current robot, Merlin.

The ASRHS team, named Andromeda One, was founded in 2014 and has more than 40 current members, which amounts to more than 10% of the high school’s student body. Interest in robotics and engineering has grown so much at Ayer-Shirley Regional High School, that the school has begun offering introductory engineering, software programming, and computer-aided design courses.

FIRST Robotics was founded in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen, and has grown to include more than 400,000 students. Each year, thousands of teams across the country are presented with a new challenge and tasked with building a robot to compete in regional and national competitions.

House Engrosses Representative Benson’s Diabetes Action Plan Bill

BOSTON – July 8, 2016 – On Thursday, the House of Representative passed to be engrossed H.3871, An Act relative to diabetes prevention, a bill State Representative Jennifer Benson filed and has fought hard for this legislative session. The bill would establish a Massachusetts Diabetes State Action Plan through the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

“I was proud to see action on the diabetes prevention bill in session today,” said Representative Benson. “Diabetes impacts 10% of our state’s population, and that number is continuing to rise.”

This bill would require the Department of Public Health (DPH) to develop a state action plan to combat the frequency of the disease. If the bill is signed into law this session, DPH would be required to work with the Health Policy Commission, the Center for Health Information and Analysis, the Group Insurance Commission and the Division of Medical Assistance, to create a strategy to reduce the prevalence and impact of diabetes in the Commonwealth. The action plan would also include tactics to improve diabetes care and best protocols to control complications associated with diabetes.

“Diabetes is projected to grow rapidly in the Commonwealth over the next several years,” said Representative Benson. “By 2025, the number of individuals living with the disease will increase 61%. That is a daunting number. It is critical that we act quickly, and pass the bill into law this session so we can be proactive and comprehensive in confronting the disease.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for engrossment.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Office Update: June 2016

Around the District

My staff and I attended several events in and around the District in June. On June 10, I joined a celebration of the 20thanniversary of the founding of Devens. Along with over 300 others, I heard Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones, and former Governor William Weld praise the efforts of the many people who have worked to make Devens a thriving community and economic hub in the region.

Later that day, Senator Eldridge and I met with town and MBTA officials in Shirley to discuss some of the issues the town is having with the Commuter Rail station and the many railroad crossings in town. Among the matters discussed were idling trains and the availability of parking at the station. It was a productive meeting, and I am glad the MBTA is being so receptive to the concerns of the town.

Later in the month, my staff attended an event at Mount Wachusett Community College’s main campus in Gardner, where MWCC honored the career of Dr. Daniel Asquino, who recently announced he is retiring after nearly 30 years as the President of MWCC. Dr. Asquino oversaw the rapid expansion of MWCC, including the opening of the Devens in 2008, which immediately became an invaluable resource to the people in the area. Dr. Asquino truly is a champion of higher education, and I wish him the best in his retirement.

At the State House

The Massachusetts League of Women Voters hosted an event on June 6 to recognize the winners of their YOUth Should Vote student video contest. Kyle Schoenberg, a student from Harvard’s Bromfield School, was one of those recognized for his submission, titled “Dreams.” My office was able to present him with a citation from the House of Representatives congratulating him on this achievement.

Later that week, my staff met with members of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce to hear their legislative priorities. Along with the Chamber’s President, Melissa Feterhoff, several small business owners discussed their challenges, including state regulations and infrastructure.

Constituent Franny Osman of Acton with Rep. Benson at the Unsung Heroine Celebration at the State House.

Constituent Franny Osman of Acton with Rep. Benson at the Unsung Heroine Celebration at the State House.

Towards the end of the month the Commission on the Status of Women held their annual Unsung Heroines of Massachusetts Celebration in the Great Hall of Flags at the State House. I was especially thrilled to attend this event because two of my Acton constituents, Franny Osman and Dot Werst, were being recognized. The Unsung Heroines are women who have made outstanding contributions to their communities; the event is a chance to recognize those women who are dedicated to making a difference in their community, without expectations of recognition. Franny and Dot are truly deserving of this recognition, as they are tireless advocates for not only their community, but also the entire region. Franny was praised for her work on regional transportation issues, and Dot for her advocacy on homelessness issues. I am so proud of the accomplishments of both of these fantastic women, and look forward to seeing their continued impact on the community.

Rep. Benson Receiving the "Legislator of the Year" award.

Rep. Benson Receiving the “Legislator of the Year” award from MassPACE.

On June 28, I received a “Legislator of the Year” award, along with Senator Eldridge, from MassPACE for our work advocating for services for senior citizens, including the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). This legislative session, I filed An Act to preserve eligibility for the PACE program and certain waivered services (H.966), which would expand access to PACE by establishing a premium system for participants whose income is over the current program limit, but below the monthly cost of nursing home care.

Legislative Update

The House of Representatives was hard at work in June, and passed several important pieces of legislation. On June 1, the House passed H.4343, An Act Relative to Transgender Anti-Discrimination. I voted for the bill to protect the thousands of transgender citizens in Massachusetts from discrimination, harassment, and violence.

The following week, the House passed an energy bill (H4385) that would require utility companies to solicit contracts for 1,200 megawatts of hydropower and 1,200 megawatts of wind power. As existing fossil fuel and nuclear power plants are retired in the coming years, it is important that the state develops a plan to replace those power sources. This bill goes a long way toward replacing the energy production the state is losing, with energy from clean and renewable sources.

Ryan Kath of WBZ-TV interviewing Rep. Benson about her step therapy bill.

Ryan Kath of WBZ-TV interviewing Rep. Benson about her step therapy bill.

Later in the month, H.791, An Act Relative to Patient Medication Adherence, was given a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. The bill, which I filed, would make it easier for doctors to override the common insurance company practice of requiring patients to first try less expensive or generic brand medications before moving on to a more expensive medication. I did an interview with WBZ-TV on the bill as part of a story they put together on this insurance practice, known as step therapy.

Additionally, the House passed two other bills, including one that would restrict the use of non-compete contracts by companies in Massachusetts (H.4323), and a bill to modernize municipal financing practices (H.4397).

Budget Update

On the last day of the month, the House and Senate passed the final Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) budget. Due to decreases in revenue expectations, the budget conference committee trimmed about $400 million from the first House and Senate budgets. While we were faced with making significant cuts from the budget, critical priorities like Chapter 70 education funding, local aid, and circuit breaker special education funding were not impacted.

Additionally, the final budget includes amendments I filed that benefit the entire Commonwealth, including language extending the expiration of the Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council, language raising the monthly personal needs allowance for nursing and rest home residents 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 policy.

Looking Ahead

With the 2015-2016 Legislative Session ending on July 31, the House of Representatives will be hard at work debating and voting on lots of legislation. I am especially looking forward to hosting the Ayer-Shirley FIRST Robotics team for an event at the State House, where the students will talk about the positive impact the afterschool program has had on their educational experience.

Constituents can contact my State House office at (617) 722-2014, or via email at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov. The District office in Lunenburg can be reached at (978) 582-4146.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson