Around The District
MLK Day Breakfast in Acton
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I attended the annual MLK Breakfast at Congregation Beth Elohim. Every year, this is a great event that brings the community together to celebrate the legacy of the Civil Rights leader. This year’s speaker was Roland Gibson, an educator and former METCO director who helped desegregate schools in Weston, Massachusetts in the 1980s. He spoke movingly on race in the United States and his life as an educator and activist.
Acton Piper Lane Site Visit
Also in Acton, I visited the site of a proposed 40B housing development on Piper Line, at the request of the South Acton Neighborhood Association (SANA). SANA opposes the project for many reasons; among them are concerns about traffic safety, density, and proximity to the Great Hill Recreation Area. After visiting the site and hearing SANA’s concerns, I sent a letter to MassHousing asking them to deny the developer’s application to proceed with the project.
Boxborough Solar Array
On February 15, I was in Boxborough with Senator Jamie Eldridge and Boxborough town officials for a ribbon-cutting at the new 5MW solar array constructed through a partnership with a municipal electric department. The array will provide clean, renewable energy to more than 2,000 customers in Boxborough and Littleton. As a longtime proponent of renewable energy, I continue to be impressed by the innovative ways the towns in my district have embraced solar energy and community solar projects.
Ayer Women’s March
I was honored to be asked to speak, along with my daughter, Maya, at the second Ayer Women’s March on January 19. It was encouraging to be among so many people celebrating equality, diversity, and progress. The organizers of the event did a great job of getting the word out, and the Ayer Police made sure we were kept safe and redirected traffic during the rally at the Town Hall.
In January, I attended the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s annual briefing, where the Chamber discussed their policy and budget priorities with the legislative delegation. We share a commitment to workforce development, including supporting programs that promote careers in advanced manufacturing.
I also spoke at the Leominster-area Fund Our Future forum, and expressed my support for the PROMISE Act, filed in the Legislature this session, to reform the Chapter 70 public education funding formula. A few weeks later, I wrote a letter that was published in the Lunenburg Ledger reaffirming my support for the PROMISE Act.
In January, Cathy Fochtman of Acton retired after more than 18 years at the Acton Recreation Department, including 12 years as the Department’s Director. At her retirement party, Senator Eldridge, Representative Tami L. Gouveia, and I presented Cathy with a citation from the House of Representatives honoring her years of public service. Congratulations Cathy, and enjoy retirement!
At the State House
The 191st Legislative Session began on January 2. Throughout the past two months, I’ve been busy drafting and filing legislation, meeting with colleagues to discuss policy, and settling into my new role as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
I filed 17 pieces of legislation this session, including six health care and five energy bills.
One of my bills would direct state agencies to collaborate on the creation of a Diabetes Action Plan to better understand the impact of diabetes in the Commonwealth. This information would then be used to develop public health strategies to address the epidemic. Another of my health care bills would create guidelines to allow patients faster and easier access to prescribed medications their insurers deem too expensive.
My carbon pricing bill garnered more than 100 cosponsors, including more than half the House of Representatives, to become the most supported climate change bill in the House this session. I continue to travel around the Commonwealth to talk about my bill, and I recently participated in panel discussions on carbon pricing in Lexington and Boston.
Another bill I filed would give cities and towns the option to use ranked choice voting (RCV) in local elections. In RCV, voters rank as many choices as there are candidates. If their first choice can’t win, their vote counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears 50%. RCV has been implemented state-wide in Maine, and used in dozens of jurisdictions across the country.
To protect students defrauded by for-profit schools, I refiled my bill establishing a Student Tuition Recovery Fund. The Fund would let students recover tuition and other costs if a for-profit school they’re attending closes, fails to provide the services promised, or violates state law.
You can view summaries of all the bills I filed this session on my website, JenBenson.org. After receiving hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters from constituents about their legislative priorities for the session, I signed on to cosponsor more than 300 bills.
Health Care Financing Committee Update
Speaker DeLeo announced his leadership team and committee assignments for the session on February 14, and I was honored to be named the Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. Health care has always been one of the policy areas I am most interested in and passionate about. As health care costs rise, and takes up a larger portion of the state budget every year, I’m looking forward to meeting the challenge of identifying policies to address costs and improve outcomes.
The Committee on Health Care Financing considers all matters concerning the direct funding of health care policy and programs, including Medicaid, MassHealth, and other public health assistance matters. So far, more than 150 bills have been referred to the Committee, and that number will continue to grow. My staff and I have started reading through the bills, and we will begin the process of planning and scheduling hearings for them in the coming weeks.
Circuit Breaker Briefing
As I have done for the past few years, I co-hosted the annual budget briefing on the Special Education Circuit Breaker line item. The Circuit Breaker program reimburses school districts for a part of the cost of educating students with severe special needs. I was glad that so many legislators and staffers came to hear from education policy experts, as well as students and parents, about the importance of fully funding the Circuit Breaker program.
Signing of the Security Breach Bill
On February 26, Governor Baker held a ceremonial signing for the security breach bill I filed last session that gives consumers more control over their credit information and the ability to freeze their credit free of charge. The signing ceremony was the culmination of over two years of work with Attorney General Maura Healey, Representative Tackey Chan, and former Senator Barbara L’Italien. It was great to have advocates from AARP and MassPIRG in the room to celebrate the new new protections for consumers.
Meeting About Parking at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station
I attended a meeting with officials from the Town of Ayer, MassDOT, and the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, as well as Senator Eldridge and Rep. Sheila Harrington, to discuss the ongoing issue of how to move forward on the planned parking garage and restroom facility at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station.
The project has been in the works for over 20 years, and has had to overcome many hurdles, including funding, design, and the acquisition of the property. Progress is continuing, albeit slowly, and the legislative delegation for Ayer is continuing to offer help in whatever ways we can.
In March, I’ll be meeting with school committees and select boards in the district to discuss education funding in the FY2020 budget and the PROMISE Act. I’ll also be attending events to discuss my energy legislation, including a conference at Tufts University on carbon pricing.
If you wish to discuss legislation, or need help with a state government issue, you can reach my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or at our new office’s phone number, 617-722-2430.