Rep. Benson’s September & October 2019 Office Update

In the District

One of my favorite parts of being your State Representative is traveling around the district and going to events. This is especially enjoyable in the fall, with the beautiful foliage and apple orchards that span the district from Lunenburg to Acton.  I attended almost two dozen district events in September and October, including ribbon cuttings, forums, and tours of small businesses.

Grand Openings & Ribbon Cuttings

On September 7, I celebrated the grand opening of the Ayer Community Garden on Barnum Road. Sheila Carman led a group of Ayer citizens in creating a community space where families can grow fresh fruits and vegetables together.

The South Acton Commuter Rail Station is the busiest location on the Fitchburg Line, with more than 1,000 daily riders boarding there. As such, there is a massive demand for more parking at the Station. On October 7, I visited the Station to celebrate the Town’s purchase of 19-21 Maple Street, which will add dozens of new parking spaces for commuters.

Celebrating District Funding

On September 30, I celebrated the appropriation of funding for local projects in the FY19 and FY20 state budgets at four events around the district. In Acton, I visited the Discovery Museum with Senator Eldridge and Representative Gouveia to present the $150,000 they received in the budget. The Acton delegation continued on to the Acton Community Supper and Food Pantry to present the $30,000 the delegation secured to aid them in providing meals to the more than 200 families they serve each week.

From there, Senator Eldridge and I visited Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Devens. Senator Eldridge filed, and I supported, a budget amendment for $120,000 for the food pantry. Loaves & Fishes provides food to over 900 families each month from Ayer, Harvard, Shirley, and surrounding towns.

The final stop of the day was in Shirley to present the $50,000 included in the FY20 budget to fund accessibility upgrades to the War Memorial Building, which also serves as American Legion Post 183. Senator Eldridge and I also announced that Shirley has been awarded a $392,000 Complete Streets grant to make pedestrian improvements to Front Street in Shirley Village.

Nineteenth Amendment Centennial

I was honored to be asked to narrate an episode of the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area’s audio series commemorating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The episode is about Hazel MacKaye, a suffragette who lived in Shirley and used her talents in theater production to bring attention to the movement.

NVMC Nurses Victory

After more than a year of contract disputes, in September, the more than 100 registered nurses of the Nashoba Valley Medical Center reached an agreement with the hospital’s owner, Steward Health Care. The nurses won better wages, a pension plan, and staffing improvements. I supported the nurses’ efforts throughout the dispute, and I stopped by their victory party in Ayer on October 4 to congratulate them.

Constituent Spotlight

Every year, members of the Legislature can nominate a business in their district for a Manufacturer of the Year award from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Caucus. This year, I nominated Little Leaf Farms of Devens. Founded in 2016, Little Leaf Farms grows produce year-round in their hydroponic, energy efficient greenhouses. In three years, they have doubled their growing capacity to 5 acres, and they plan to double it again next year. It has been incredible to watch their business grow into one of the largest food manufacturers in the district.


Legislative Update

After the August recess, the House of Representatives was very active in September and October, passing several important bills.

Union Bill Override

In September, the Legislature overrode a veto by Governor Baker on a bill supporting public sector unions. I was proud to cast my vote to allow public sector unions to recover from non-members the reasonable costs associated with representing them in the labor negotiation process. This common practice had been challenged since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against unions in a case last year.

Campaign Finance Reform

On September 25, the House passed reforms to the state’s campaign finance laws to require more frequent reporting of donations and expenditures. The bill also seeks to change the makeup of the commission that appoints the head of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to be nonpartisan.

College Closure Bill

The House passed legislation requiring further financial transparency from private colleges and universities. The bill would allow regulators to screen higher education institutions for financial trouble to avoid sudden closures and mergers of these schools, which the upend students’ lives. A similar bill passed the Senate in October, and a compromise needs to be worked out before it can become law.

Supplemental Budget

With revenue exceeding the benchmark set last year by hundreds of millions of dollars, the House passed a supplemental spending bill in October. The bill puts an additional $400 million into the Commonwealth’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing the total balance to $3.2 billion.

The bill includes $24 million for the testing of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination of water supplies and for grants to support treatment and remediation, as well as $35 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund. Several towns in the district are affected by PFAS contamination, and this funding will help them test and treat their public water supplies. Language from a bill filed by Representative Hogan and me establishing a PFAS task force was also included. This task force will bring public health agencies and policymakers together to study the issue of PFAS contamination and come up with solutions.

The House and Senate still need to iron out the differences between the supplemental budgets both houses passed before the spending bill can become law.

Student Opportunity Act

As someone who began my career in public service as a member of the Lunenburg School Committee, I was extraordinarily proud to vote for the Student Opportunity Act. This once-in-a-generation reform to the way public education is funded in Massachusetts invests an additional $1.5 billion in the Commonwealth’s children over seven years, and updates the Chapter 70 funding formula.

This historic education equity bill will ensure that every student in Massachusetts has access to a high-quality public education. The Senate passed a slightly different version of the bill, and a conference committee was appointed to reach a compromise.


Looking Ahead

In November, the House will be taking up a veterans’ mental health bill, and I will be participating in the Women in Government health care conference in Washington, D.C. I will also be attending several events in the district.

Please reach out to my district office at 978-582-4146 ext. 4, or my State House office at 617-722-2430, if you wish to discuss legislation or you need assistance with a constituent matter.

My next update will be out in early December, so have a happy Thanksgiving and enjoy spending time with your families.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson