Representative Benson Reflects on Session Accomplishments

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature in completing a productive 2015-2016 session which included the passage of multiple landmark bills. Over the past two years, the Legislature passed major bills related to substance addiction, energy, economic development, civil rights, and regulatory reform, including rules governing the “ride-for-hire” industry.

As required by their rules, formal sessions for the Legislature’s two-year session ended at midnight on July 31st. While legislators will continue working for their constituents and in their districts, all major legislation that requires a roll call vote had to pass by this deadline.

“I am proud of all that we were able to accomplish this session,” said Representative Benson. “We worked hard to pass fair legislation that will help the Commonwealth remain the leader in many evolving industries, including ride-for-hire transportation systems and the clean energy sector.”

This session the Legislature took up various pieces of legislation in response to rapid shifts in economic, environmental, and regulatory landscapes, including a major energy bill. The recently-signed law will diversify Massachusetts’ energy portfolio and ensure reliable electricity supply by replacing older power plants that are due for retirement. These measures will protect the Commonwealth’s ratepayers while enhancing clean energy and securing a more sustainable future. The law supports 2,800 megawatts (MWs) of clean energy – the largest amount the Legislature has included in any single bill – and requires distribution companies to conduct solicitations for 1,600 MWs of offshore wind.

Recognizing ongoing innovations in transportation, the Legislature created statewide regulations for ride-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft that will improve public safety and consumer protection standards. At the same time, these regulations will allow companies to continue to provide pioneering transportation services. The law creates a new division overseen by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) responsible for regulating ride-for-hire companies. Companies applying for licensure must meet insurance, background check, pricing, and nondiscrimination standards.

Throughout the legislative session, Representative Benson remained committed to filing and advocating for strong legislation that in the areas of health care policy, improving education, assisting individuals with disabilities and their families in the public school system, and various prevention efforts for chronic diseases such as diabetes and HIV. Demonstrating her commitment to these issues, Representative Benson filed An Act relative to diabetes prevention (H.3871), which was engrossed in the House this session due to her leadership on the issue, and An Act relative to a State Public Health HIV and Hepatitis Fund (H.3960). In addition, Representative Benson successfully filed and advocated for the inclusion of a commission to investigate and study services for students with low incidence disabilities and to identify opportunities for administrative efficiencies and cost savings by school districts in the House FY17 budget.

Major bills co-sponsored by Representative Benson that made it to Governor Baker’s desk this session include An Act to Establish Pay Equity (S.2119), which provides tools to help ensure that men and women receive equitable compensation for comparable work. This law represents a consensus-based effort to ensure that the legislation would be practical, effective, and sustainable. Additionally, Representative Benson co-sponsored An Act to improve public records (H.4333), which updated the Commonwealth’s public records law for the first time in more than 40 years. This House-led initiative enhances accountability measures and creates a standardized timeframe and process in which requested documents must be produced. It also ensures that judicial remedies can be sought by those seeking public records.

On behalf of the district, Representative Benson sponsored Home Rule Petitions this session that were signed into law, such as An Act exempting certain positions in the police department of the town of Acton from the civil service law (H.2202), and An Act authorizing the Commissioner of DCAMM to convey certain land to the town of Acton in exchange for other real property (H.3792).  Additionally, impacting the town of Shirley, the Legislature voted to override Governor Baker’s veto to cut funding to the cities and towns that host Department of Correction (DOC) facilities. The prison mitigation earmark will remain at the Legislature’s FY17 final level of $2.2 million.

“Over the course of the two-year session, we were able to pass comprehensive bills that make major investments in our economy and infrastructure,” said Representative Benson. “In addition, the legislature worked hard to tackle issues facing our constituencies including providing clarity to owners of foreclosed properties, public accommodations access, discrepancies in pay among men and women, and substance abuse.”

Among the healthcare policy issues Representative Benson fought hard for this session was An Act relative to patient medication adherence (H.791). H.791, also referred to as the “step-therapy bill”, garnered a lot of support among advocates across the state toward the end of session. The bill, which would give prescribers more control over the medications they prescribe to their patients, received a favorable report from two joint committees, and remains in the House Committee on Ways and Means.  If there is no action on the bill through informal sessions, the Representative will file it again next session.

As Chair of the Joint Committee of Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, Representative Benson led the Committee’s work in taking up issues of licensing and regulation. During this legislative session, she was able to report out of committee An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealings (H.3806), which establishes a list of metals that metals dealers are prohibited from collecting, and establishes fines for those that violate this law. An Act relative to streamlining home improvement contractor registration (H.4022) was also moved out of committee and enacted into law. This bill allows residential contractors and subcontractors to use a major credit card to pay fees, thereby streamlining the registration process. An Act relative to in-house cafes (H.4452) was engrossed by the House and would allow grocery stores to hold liquor licenses for both on-premises and off-premises consumption. This would allow grocery stores to serve alcoholic beverages at their cafes, thereby boosting local economies and promoting greater consumer choice.

Other bills passed in the House this session include preventing trafficking of fentanyl, energy legislation lifting the net-metering cap, a bill to protect minors from dangers of indoor tanning, a license suspension bill for non-violent drug offenses, legislation to provide legal protections against discrimination related to gender identity or expression in public accommodations, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) without implementing new taxes or fees, and increasing the Council on Aging grant formula.

The Legislature will continue to meet for informal sessions through December.   Formal session will resume next January when the newly elected members are sworn into the 190th General Court of Massachusetts.