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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.