At the State House
In between formal sessions, I was delighted to host the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School’s (ASRHS) FIRST Robotics team for an event on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Students delivered an impressive 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 a STEM field in college.
The group also unveiled their campaign, called MassFIRST, to get a FIRST Robotics program up and running in every school district in the Commonwealth. Since launching the campaign last year, the ASRHS team has travelled across Massachusetts promoting FIRST Robotics, and mentoring several schools that have gone on to start their own teams.
I first met with the ASRHS team last fall when they invited me to their school. I think what they are doing to spark an interest in kids to consider careers in STEM fields is incredible. Their MassFIRST campaign is so admirable because they are taking what they have learned and using it to help other school districts form their own FIRST teams. After their presentation, I enjoyed driving their robot around the State House with Representative Stephen Hay.
With full formal sessions for the Legislature’s two-year (2015-2016) session coming to a close on July 31, the General Court worked hard to pass important legislation that requires roll call votes, and tie up loose ends before the end of the month.
Early in the month, the Legislature sent a compromised bill (S.2407) to the Governor guaranteeing transgender citizens the right to access public accommodations, such as hotels, retail stores, restrooms, and restaurants. I was proud to vote for this bill, which protects the thousands of transgender citizens in Massachusetts from discrimination.
The Legislature also sent a finalized version of An Act to Establish Pay Equity (S.2119) to the Governor. I am overjoyed that the women of Massachusetts now have the law on their side when it comes to issues of wage discrimination. The new law prohibits discrimination in compensation between men and women for similar work, unless the discrepancy is due to education, seniority, experience, or another limited number of factors. Importantly, the law also makes Massachusetts the first state to forbid employers from asking job applicants about their salary history, so that the lower average entry-level salaries women are paid do not suppress their earning potential throughout their careers.
An energy bill (H.4568) that will require distribution companies to solicit 1,600 megawatts each of offshore wind and hydroelectric power was passed by the Legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor. After a long Conference Committee process, I voted for the final bill because it pushes Massachusetts toward our clean energy goals. I hope the progress made with this bill can be built upon in the next Legislative Session.
Finally, the Legislature also passed bills regulating the ride-for-hire industry (H.4570) and reforming municipal finance practices (H.4565), as well as an economic development bill (H.4569). The final vote just before midnight during the weekend formal sessions was to override Governor Baker’s veto of a law requiring health insurance providers to cover the long-term treatment of Lyme disease. The veto passed overwhelmingly, with nearly unanimous support in both the House and Senate.
Unfortunately, a bill that I filed and fought hard for this session, An Act Relative to Patient Medication Adherence (H.791), is still in House Committee on Ways and Means. The bill, which received a considerable amount of support and news coverage this session, would give doctors more control over the medications they prescribe to their patients by providing a way around insurance providers’ “step therapy” protocol. While I will continue to advocate for passage of this bill during informal sessions in the next few months, if it does not move, I plan to file the bill again in the next Legislative session.
After delivering a responsible but robust budget in June, Governor Baker chose to cut more than $250 million in spending from the Legislature’s budget. The House and Senate held two weekend sessions in July to override many of the Governor’s vetoes to crucial programs. In total, the Legislature restored $232 million in funding to vital accounts, including The Massachusetts Cultural Council, Special Education Circuit Breaker, community colleges, State University Incentive Grants, and early education.
I successfully fought to override vetoes to prison mitigation funding for the Town of Shirley, funding for an additional shuttle for Acton seniors, and economic development funds for North Central Massachusetts.
As the summer winds down, I am looking forward to spending time in the District with my family. The next monthly update will be published in October.
If you wish to contact me, you can do so by calling 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.