Rep. Benson’s March/April 2019 Office Update

District

Budget Meetings

In March and April, I continued meeting with town and school officials in the district to discuss their legislative and budget priorities for the year. I met with the Harvard and Acton-Boxborough School Committees and officials from the towns to discuss education funding ahead of the FY20 budget debate. We discussed proposed legislation that would reform Chapter 70 public school funding, regional transportation, special education, and other education budget items. As a former member and chair of a local school committee, I understand the financial difficulties facing these districts, and I advocated for increasing education funding during the House budget process.

Ranked Choice Voting Town Hall

At an informational session about ranked choice voting (RCV), I spoke about my legislation, H.635, which would give cities and towns the option to implement RCV in their local elections. In RCV, instead of voting for one candidate, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If their first choice cannot win, their vote counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears 50%. RCV has been used in statewide federal elections in Maine and in dozens municipal elections across the country. I was happy to talk about the bill and answer questions from constituents.

Acton and Boxborough Events

At the Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council Grantee Reception, I celebrated the dozens of local- organizations receiving grants totaling more than $12,000 to support their programs and events. As a supporter of the arts and culture, it was great to be able to congratulate the grantees and enjoy previews of some of their upcoming plays, concerts, and art shows.

In the midst of the strike by Stop & Shop workers across New England, I visited the picket line at the store in Acton on Powder Mill Road to bring the workers donuts and offer support. After ten days, a tentative agreement was reached between the United Food and Commercial Workers union and The Stop & Shop Company. I was happy to lend my support to the workers as they fought for fair wages and benefits.

Supporting striking Stop & Shop workers in Acton.

State House

Community Leadership Institute

With the members of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Institute in the House Chamber.

Every year, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce bring the members of their Community Leadership Institute to the State House. I spoke with the group of local business leaders in the House Chamber about my path to serving in the Legislature and the qualities I believe make an effective leader. I also talked about my new role as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing and answered questions about policy.

Advocacy Days

March and April are always busy months for advocacy groups in the State House. I met with students from Ayer-Shirley Regional High School about the importance of ensuring that a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) classes is available in all high schools. AP classes are funded primarily by local school districts, but there is some funding in the Massachusetts state budget specifically for AP classes. The FY20 House budget includes $2.9 million for AP math and science courses.

Talking with Ayer-Shirley AP High School students.

I also met with a group of constituents from Harvard and Acton Unitarian Universalist congregations about their legislative priorities, which include addressing climate change, making it easier to vote, and reforming our criminal justice system.

On March 28, I spoke at the American Cancer Society lobby day about my “fail first” legislation, which would allow patients to get the medication prescribed to them more quickly when insurance companies try to intercede and make patients try a less expensive medication first.

Speaking at the Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs’ breakfast.

I was honored to be asked to speak at the Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs advocacy day event in April. I told a story about my grandfather, who grew up in Boston’s West End just a few blocks from the State House. As a Lithuanian immigrant, he found a home and a second family at the West End Boys Club, where he played basketball and learned English. The Club was a huge part of his childhood and identity as a new American. A photo of my grandfather and his West End Club basketball team hangs in my State House office as a reminder of the importance of after school and summer programs, and the great work of the Boys & Girls Clubs.


Legislative Update

Bills Protecting Children, Women’s Health Care Signed into Law

The Legislature recently passed, and the Governor signed into law, several important pieces of legislation to protect children, and ensure the availability of reproductive health care to women in Massachusetts.

On March 13, the House passed An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors. When it was signed into law by the Governor a few weeks later, Massachusetts became the 15th state to ban the practice of conversion therapy on children. Conversion therapy seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a child through abusive and often violent methods, and has been shown to cause severe mental health issues. An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids also became law after the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of the bill, which makes more than 8,000 children in low-income families eligible for state benefits.

The House passed supplemental funding for women’s health clinics in the state to ensure that women will continue to have access to reproductive health care and preventative cancer screening. Since 1970, these clinics have received funding from the federal Title X program but the Trump Administration has threatened to cut this funding. This would force many of the 93 clinics across Massachusetts to close. I was proud to join the Legislature in appropriating this funding, because without it, 70,000 people would be in danger of losing access to their main providers of reproductive care, contraception, STD testing, and cancer screening. The Governor signed the funding bill into law on March 30.


FY2020 House Budget

After a four-day process, the House passed a $42.7 billion state budget that makes substantial investments in K-12 education and health care. With a nearly 5 percent increase in Chapter 70 funding over last year, and the full funding of the Special Education Circuit Breaker, the budget ensures that our schools will have the resources they need to provide high quality education.

I filed several amendments for district-specific projects and programs that were included in the FY20 House budget including:

  • $100,000 for the Lunenburg Fire Department to purchase new safety equipment;
  • $165,000 for the removal and replacement of fuel storage tanks in Lunenburg;
  • $100,000 for the renovation of a building in Acton to serve as a community center; and
  • $150,000 for the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at the Devens campus at Mount Wachusett Community College.

I also co-sponsored amendments to fund district-specific items, and a few of those made it into the FY20 House budget as well, including:

  • Prison Mitigation Funding to benefit cities and towns hosting state Department of Corrections facilities (Shirley);
  • $100,000 for elderly and commuter shuttles linking to the MBTA in Acton and Maynard; and
  • $27,000 for water quality monitoring for the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers (Acton).
Speaking during the FY20 House budget debate in favor of the amendment to lower MassHealth pharmaceutical spending.

The FY20 House budget includes new policy language that would give the Executive Office of Health & Human Services (EOHHS) and the Health Policy Commission (HPC) more tools to lower drug costs in the MassHealth program. The amendment authorizes EOHHS to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers for supplemental rebates to lower overall prescription drug spending within MassHealth. EOHHS may also hold public hearings on the supplemental rebates and request documentation from manufacturers explaining their reasoning behind the pricing of drugs. This process would allow members of the public to weigh in by providing testimony. If the HPC determines a manufacturer has priced a drug unreasonably or excessively, and the manufacturer declines to agree to terms for a supplemental rebate, EOHHS may subject the drug to actions such as requiring prior authorization and prescription quantity limits. If at any point a drug manufacturer fails to provide the HPC with requested information, they can be fined up to $500,000.


Health Care Financing Committee

Hearing testimony at the first hearing of the session of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing has begun holding legislative hearings on bills that were referred to the Committee. Our first hearing was on pharmaceutical pricing and transparency, and lasted several hours. My Co-Chair and I, Senator Cindy Friedman, as well as the other members of the Committee, heard testimony from dozens of advocates, medical professionals, and industry leaders. The Committee is currently working on reviewing all the collected testimony and preparing for future hearings.


Looking Ahead

In May, the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing will be holding more legislative hearings, including on single-payer health care legislation. For details about hearings and the bills before the Committee, visit MALegislature.gov. I will also be hosting a briefing at the State House on my Election Day Voter Registration bill, and attending events in the district.

If you wish to discuss legislation, or you require assistance with a state government issue, you can reach my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or at 617-722-2430.

Sincerely,