Representative Benson’s Carbon Pollution Pricing Bill Receives Support from Colleagues

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson introduced a new bill this session, An Act to promote green infrastructure, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs, which is gaining support in the Legislature from her colleagues. With 58 cosponsors, the bill aims to reduce the carbon footprint of the Commonwealth, and will help the state meet the greenhouse gas emission mandates set by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.

“I filed this bill because I have followed carbon pricing initiatives across the country and around the world, and know that this is the most strategic way to reduce pollution and hit our reduction targets,” said Representative Benson. 

“We’re excited but not surprised about the growing support for carbon pollution pricing among our public officials,” said Cindy Luppi, coordinator of the Massachusetts Campaign for a Clean Energy Future, a coalition backing carbon pollution pricing, and Clean Water Action Regional Director. “Massachusetts is serious about tackling the climate crisis and we can’t meet our pollution reduction mandates without creating a price incentive to reduce carbon pollution and invest in our local clean energy economy.”

Representative Benson’s bill would establish a fee and rebate system on carbon to encourage reduced use of these fuels, and focus on energy efficiency and increased reliance on clean energy sources. Benson’s bill would protect low-and-moderate-income and rural households to ensure that these populations see adequate rebates and come out even or ahead. It would also require that a percentage of the household fund is invested in the state’s fuel assistance program. Additionally, the legislation would refund employers based on their number of employees, allowing businesses to remain competitive.

“We took a very thoughtful approach to drafting a comprehensive piece of legislation that not only works to reduce emissions and create jobs, but would reinvest funds back into transportation, resiliency, and clean energy projects, and offer protections to low-and moderate-income households,” said Benson. “Many of my colleagues have shown interest in the bill, and I am truly looking forward to working on it this session.”

Three other energy issue bills were introduced, which also include carbon pricing provisions, including a An Act combating climate change filed by Senator Barrett (D-Lexington),  An Act relative to 2030 and 2040 emissions benchmarks filed by Senator Pacheco (D-Taunton), and An Act relative to creating energy jobs filed by Representative Goldstein-Rose (D-Amherst).

House Engrosses Representative Benson’s HIV and Hepatitis Fund Bill

BOSTON – On Monday, the House of Representative passed to be engrossed H.3960, An Act renaming the Massachusetts AIDS Fund to be called the State Public Health HIV and Hepatitis Fund, a bill Representative Jennifer Benson sponsored and advocated for this legislative session.  This bill would rename the current AIDS Fund to ensure that the Department of Public Health (DPH) can continue to use the funds on AIDS prevention and reduction efforts, but also on illness and death related to infection with HIV or viral hepatitis.

“This is the first session I filed this bill, and I worked hard with my colleagues to get it through the House,” said Representative Benson. “As of 2013, Hepatitis C was one of the highest volume reportable diseases in Massachusetts.”

If signed into law this session, this bill would allow for DPH to use all voluntary tax contributions, grants, donations, and federal reimbursements, made to the fund, to be used for clinical and public health research, program evaluation, prevention and testing, and treatment services. The money would be allowed to be used for outreach efforts to inform groups within the public who are at high risk of infection with HIV or viral hepatitis.

While the bill would rename the fund to include HIV and viral hepatitis, the language ensures that the funds complement, and not replace, current AIDS-related initiatives, and would require the DPH Commissioner to consult with the AIDS advisory board to develop a list of priorities and protocols for the fund.

“The key to reducing the death rate for people reported with HIV/AIDS is ensuring that those already diagnosed remain engaged in care and targeting those at high risk,” said Representative Benson. “DPH is already doing a commendable job combatting this disease; the renaming of the fund will simply allow for the Department to enhance those services and expand research.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for engrossment.

Benson Focuses on Targeted Investments in Local Aid and Education for Fiscal Year 2016 Budget

(BOSTON) – The Massachusetts House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee (HWM) unveiled their $38 billion fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget on Wednesday with targeted investments focused on local aid for schools, transportation infrastructure, and regional school transportation.

The House FY16 budget represents a 2.8 percent increase compared to the current fiscal year, with ample increases to Chapter 70 and Chapter 90 funds, as well as increases to unrestricted local aid. Compared to Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed budget, the House FY16 budget includes an additional $3 million for educational aid, an additional $13.3 million for regional school transportation, and an additional $34 million in unrestricted local aid. In total, the House FY16 budget provides for $25 of state funds per pupil, compared to $20 per pupil in Governor Baker’s proposed budget.

“This budget proves we can continue our commitment to providing local aid to our cities and towns, while still maintaining fiscal responsibility,” said State Representative Jennifer Benson. “While the HWM’s recommendations are thoughtful, and make strategic investments in key areas like education, I have also filed amendments to the budget that request a 75% reimbursement rate for regional school districts’ transportation costs, regional bonus aid, and additional investments in after school programs, among others. I am looking forward to the House budget debate.”

Other highlights from the House budget include an additional $17.3 million for the trial court system, an additional $10 million for the treatment and prevention of substance abuse, and an additional $15 million for mental health services. The budget also increases the Department of Transportation’s budget by $70 million, and puts in place reforms to improve the quality, and lower the cost of MBTA services.

Members of the House had to submit their amendment proposals to the HWM’s FY16 budget recommendations by April 17, and will begin the House budget debate on April 27.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Office Update: February & March 2015

I wanted to take a moment to provide you with an update. This time of the year is always busy on Beacon Hill, as we start to advocate for our legislative priorities, and prepare for the House budget debate in April.

Around the District

There was a lot going on in the 37th Middlesex District the past two months, and I was thrilled to be able to attend a lot of events, including a ribbon cutting at Visiting Angels, LWV-AA’s Annual Civics Bee, and a Recognition Dinner.

I also had the opportunity to meet with the Lunenburg Council on Aging, the North Central MA Chamber of Commerce, and the Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee. At the School Committee meeting, I gave a presentation that included an overview of Chapter 70 formula, and how it specifically impacts special education funding.

Throughout March and February, I also attend the MAGIC Legislative Breakfast, the Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School Luncheon, Central MA Grown’s First Annual meeting, and Shriver Job Corps’ Quarterly CRC luncheon.

The commuter rail passenger platform access and safety issues continue to be an unresolved concern at the Depot Square train station in Ayer. Unfortunately, although there have been a few proposed plans between the Town, the property owner, the MBTA, and MART, there has yet to be a plan agreed upon in writing. My colleagues and I continue to be in touch with Ayer’s Town Administrator, Robert Pontbriand, and follow the issue closely.

 At the State House

On Beacon Hill this month, I had the opportunity to meet with Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito, in my capacity as Co-Vice Chair of the MA Caucus of Women Legislators, to discuss our priority issues that affect women across the Commonwealth.

Among having many meetings to discuss bills and the budget, I also was able to meet with the MA Life Sciences Center, attend a briefing on Healthy Food, Local Jobs, Strong Communities, and had discussions concerning the possibility of Boston hosting the 2024 Olympics.

After School and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council (ASOST)

In the beginning of March I had the honor to be included in the speaking program at the MA Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs’ Annual Luncheon at the State House to discuss my work on the ASOST Council to date. It was an excellent opportunity to bring awareness to the ASOST Coordinating Council and emphasize the importance of investing in quality after school programs.

Mid-March Senator McGee and I facilitated our first site visit of 2015 for the ASOST Coordinating Council in the Culinary Arts Room at Everett High School. During the visit, we were able to hear recommendations on how the legislature can better support afterschool and out of school time programs from program leaders, such as Debbie Kneeland Keegan from For Kids Only (FKO) Afterschool. Additionally, we were able to discuss the Council’s first recommendation to our colleagues in the legislature, which is to use state funds to host a first of its kind student data sharing pilot in the state.

Legislative Update

The House met for three full formal sessions, during the months of February and March, to consider, the House Rules and the Joint Rules of the Two Branches, An Act Addressing the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Shortfall (HB49), An Act providing for an employee retirement incentive program (HB3189), and An Act further providing for the financing of certain improvement to municipal roads and bridges (HB3187), among others. If you are interested in a real-time updates of the House schedule, you can do so by accessing the link https://malegislature.gov/Events/HouseSessions.

I was delighted to meet with and gain support of my healthy eating bill (H3221) from Mass Farm to School in March. House Bill 3221 is a new file and one of my top priorities this session, and I am looking forward to advocating for changing guidelines and expanding programs to increase healthy eating in public schools.

To review all twenty-five bills that I have filed this session, please visit my website (https://jenbenson.org/legislation/). If you click on the bill number/titles then you will be redirected to the MA Legislature website, where you can access the most up-to-date status of the bill and track it through the legislative process.

Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure

You may notice that my committee update each month is different. That is because with the new legislative session that started in January, we received new committee assignments. In early March, I was named as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

Although consumer protection is a new issue area for me, I am looking forward to working on legislation that works to strengthen the rights of consumers and licensing policies. In my new capacity as Chair of the committee, I spent the month of March hosting a variety of organizations and lobbyists for introductory meetings and to review important bills that are currently in the committee, such as An Act to enhance consumer protection and transparency under the social work licensing law (HB157), An Act relative to telecommunications systems contractors and technicians (HB242), and An Act relative to special alcohol licenses for nonprofit organizations (HB248), among others.

As of March, the committee has been assigned over one hundred House bills to review. To find the full list of bills currently in the Consumer Protection Committee, you can access the link: https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J17.

Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) State Budget

It is that time of year again—budget season. Governor Baker released his fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget recommendations (House Bill 1) to the committee on House Ways and Means on March 5, 2015. You can review the Governor’s recommendations by accessing https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/House/H1 or http://www.mass.gov/bb/h1/fy16h1/.

In February, I met with Hose Ways and Means Chairman to discuss my top three priorities for the FY16 budget: Chapter 70 funding, local aid, and prison mitigation funding.

The House will release its’ version of the budget in the next couple of weeks, and we will have our FY16 budget debate at the end of April.

At the State House, I have also met with various groups to hear their FY16 budget requests, including YWCA Jane Doe Advocates, Health Care For All, MetroWest Legal Services and the Mass Life Sciences Center, among others.

In March, I hosted a Superintendents’ Luncheon with Representative Harrington (R-Groton) to have a discussion about their district budgets, fiscal requests and legislative priorities for the new session. In addition to the luncheon, I attended Fitchburg State University’s Annual Superintendents’ Breakfast as well. At the end of March, Senator Eldridge and I attended the Town of Shirley’s Board of Selectmen meeting to also discuss the municipal budget, and their priorities.

My staff and I attended the Mass Municipal Association (MMA) and MARS Legislative Breakfast to discuss FY16 budget concerns.

In the next couple of weeks, I am preparing to review HWM’s budget, to file amendments, and then debate the budget in the House. It has been great to meet with so many people, and receive literature on budget priorities. If you wish to bring a FY16 budget request to my attention, please contact Meagan Greene in my Boston office.

I want to thank all of you for communicating your concerns and priorities over the course of February and March. As always, I encourage each of you to keep in touch by contacting my office at 617.722.2014 or sending me an email at Jennifer.Benson@mahouse.gov.

Representative Benson, Senator Eldridge Recognized as Legislative Champions by MassPACE

BOSTON- On Thursday, April 2, 2015, Representative Benson (D-Lunenburg) and Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) were recognized as legislative champions at Massachusetts State Association of PACE Programs’ State House Day.

Representative Jennifer Benson and Senator Jamie Eldridge received Inaugural MassPace Programs’ Legislative Champion Awards, and were recognized for their continued advocacy of the MassPace Programs, and the bill they refiled this session, An Act to preserve eligibility for PACE program and certain waivered participants (HB966/SD1023).

“I was honored to receive one of MassPACE’s Legislative Champion awards.  Senator Eldridge and I always happily file our MassPACE eligibility bills, as we have both seen the cost savings, and quality of life enhancements that result from the program,” said Representative Benson. “I personally know that by improving access to community-based care, we are relieving many nursing home eligible individuals and their families, who are faced with the difficult decisions of trying to spend down their monthly income, or consider nursing home care. I saw this stressful situation firsthand with my own grandparents, so this continues to be a priority issue for me, and I intend to continue advocating for the income eligibility change.”

“It was a wonderful honor to receive a legislative champion award from MassPACE,” said Senator Eldridge. “Recognizing the wide impact programs like PACE have on improving access to all-inclusive community care as an alternative to nursing homes for our seniors, Representative Benson and I are proud to refile this legislation. I look forward to working together with MassPACE this session to advance the PACE bill.”

The Preserving Access to PACE Act (SD1023/H.966) offers a commonsense remedy to the current dilemma. PACE and Home and Community Based Waiver participants whose income is over the current program limit but below the monthly cost of nursing home care would be charged a premium equal to any income above the program limit.

The bill would improve access to community-based care for nursing home eligible individuals and produce significant benefits for older adults and the Commonwealth. Most notably:

  • PACE has been well-documented to improve both the quality and length of life for participants.
  • PACE reduces hospitalizations.
  • PACE costs significantly less per participant than MassHealth expends on nursing home care.

The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is an innovative care model focused on the keeping those 55 and older in their homes and communities for as long as possible by offering a comprehensive set of medical, behavioral health, social, and wellness services. In Massachusetts, PACE programs are sponsored by local organizations across the state. PACE participants are nursing home eligible individuals, the majority of whom are dually-eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. PACE is a capitated program in which providers are fully at risk for all costs of caring for their patients.