In the District
Nashua River Watershed Association
In November, I celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Nashua River Watershed Association at an event in Devens. For half a century, the Association has worked to clean up and protect the Nashua River and its tributaries, which flow through most of the towns in the 37th Middlesex District. It was wonderful to recognize the organization’s accomplishments, which include achieving Wild and Scenic federal protected status for the river earlier this year. The organization’s inspirational founder, Marion Stoddart, spoke about her lifetime of conservation efforts and activism. Stoddart initiated the cleanup of the Nashua River in the 1960s and sparked an environmental movement that led Massachusetts to pass the first water pollution legislation in the United States in 1965.
Later in the month, I attended the annual Diwali festival in Acton. Hundreds of Indian-American families have made their homes in Acton and Boxborough, and it was wonderful to experience this vibrant community through delicious food, dancing, and music.
On Veterans Day, I attended Acton’s ceremony at the Town Common. It is always important to honor those who have served in our armed forces, and Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices veterans have made and thank the veterans in your life for their service.
At the State House
A few weeks ago, I hosted the annual Open Enrollment briefing for legislators and staff to learn how to help their constituents sign up for insurance. More than 250,000 Massachusetts residents get their health insurance through the Health Connector, our ACA insurance marketplace. Open Enrollment for 2020 ends on January 23, so if you or your family do not have health insurance, or you would like to explore more options for coverage, visit MAHealthConnector.org. For coverage that begins on January 1, enroll by December 23. If you run into any problems during the application process, you can reach out to my district office at 978-582-4146 for assistance.
World Diabetes Day
As the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a comprehensive state action plan to address diabetes, I was invited to speak at the World Diabetes Day event at the State House. More than 600,000 people in Massachusetts are diabetic, and 27,000 more are diagnosed every year. As the House Chair of the Health Care Finance Committee, I have studied the impact this disease is having on people’s lives, as well as the costs to our health care system. On average, people with diabetes have annual medical expenses more than double those who do not, and total direct medical expenses for diabetes in Massachusetts is $5.5 billion per year. My legislation, H.1852, would create a multi-agency action plan to confront the diabetes public health epidemic.
The Legislature finalized several major bills in November, sending education funding reform to the Governor for his signature, along with a ban on distracted driving, and children’s health and wellness legislation.
Student Opportunity Act
Last month, the Governor signed into law the Student Opportunity Act, which provides an unprecedented $1.5 billion in new investment in Massachusetts’ public education system. The law fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission over seven years, and takes into account employee health insurance costs and special education costs when determining funding levels for school districts. I began my career in public service on the Lunenburg School Committee over 15 years ago, and I was extraordinarily proud to cast my vote for this this once-in-a-generation education equity bill.
Distracted Driving Ban
We are now the 21st state to ban the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. The Legislature passed and the Governor signed An Act Requiring the Hands-free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving. Starting in June 2020, drivers will be fined $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. Drivers will still be able to use navigation apps on their phone, as long as it is affixed to the dashboard and voice-operated, or requires only a tap or swipe.
Child Wellness Policies
In November, I had the privilege to co-chair the conference committee that produced legislation that will provide health insurance to children in the foster care system, require insurance companies to keep accurate provider directories, and examine issues of pediatric health care access and quality. An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness, signed into law by the Governor on November 26, bridges the gap between our children and the services available to them, and compels insurance companies to give parents the information they need to make informed health care decisions.
Tobacco Control Legislation
Massachusetts became the first state to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products after the Governor signed into law new regulations designed to protect children and teenagers from the harms of tobacco and vaping. This legislation was a response to a rise in vaping-related-illness in Massachusetts and public health studies that found that more than 20 percent of high school students have used vaping products.
In addition to the several major bills signed into law last month, the House of Representatives also passed legislation honoring and supporting veterans. The week before Veterans Day, the House passed legislation creating a continuing education program to train counselors at colleges and universities in the state to recognize symptoms of PTSD and steer veterans toward resources for treatment. The House also passed a separate bill honoring Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War.
Higher Education Transparency
Additionally, in response to the closure of several colleges over the past few years, the House passed legislation requiring more transparency and financial reporting from schools in the state. An Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education requires higher education institutions to make financial reports public and requires institutions facing risk of closure to develop contingency plans to assist and inform their students. The bill also mandates ethics and financial training for higher education board members and trustees.
I will be publishing my next office update in early February, so I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!
Please reach out to my District office at 978-582-4146 ext. 4, and my State House office at 617-722-2430 if you have a constituent issue, or if you would like to discuss legislation. You can also contact me via email at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov.