Representative Benson Votes with Legislature to Pass Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

BOSTON – Representative Benson joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature last week to pass landmark criminal justice reform legislation. An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform (S.2371) will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.

The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying An Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.

“This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I wholeheartedly thank Chairwoman Cronin for her insight and diligence, Leader Mariano, Chairman Sanchez, and Representative Harrington.”

“I was proud to vote for this legislation that touches every facet of our criminal justice system. These reforms will make our system fairer and more equitable, and allow those who committed crimes as youths or young adults the opportunity for a second chance,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg).

For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.

The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. It creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence.

Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies:

  • Reduces the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor.
  • Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.
  • Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications.
  • Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,200. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.

Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.

MassDOT Releases funding for Acton Senior Shuttle secured by Benson, Hogan and Eldridge

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has agreed to appropriate $75,000 to add an additional van service to an existing senior shuttle in Acton and Maynard. The funding was secured by Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), and Representative Kate Hogan (D-Stow) last year during the FY18 state budget process, but Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the funding, resulting in a delay of the appropriation. The Massachusetts Legislature overrode the veto in the fall of 2017, and MassDOT has officially agreed to release the funding.

“I was disappointed when the Governor vetoed the funding for this critical program,” said Representative Benson. “Many seniors and persons with disabilities in our districts depend on the shuttle service to get around town and to medical appointments. I’m extremely proud of the advocacy work done by Representative Hogan, Senator Eldridge, and I to fight for this funding and override the veto.”

“The Senior Van Program is a great service that allows seniors in Acton and Maynard to get to appointments, participate in daily activities, and live independently,” said Senator Eldridge. “I was happy to work with Representatives Hogan and Benson to secure this funding in the state budget, and to override the Governor’s veto of the funding. We will continue to work together to improve access to reliable transportation services in our communities.”

“I was proud to work with my colleagues last year to secure funding that will allow for the expansion of the Senior Van Program,” said Representative Kate Hogan (D-Stow). “I have always believed that public transportation is an essential service and our Senior Van Program does important work enabling seniors and individuals with disabilities to travel around town. With the Baker-Polito Administration’s release of the state funds, this program can now add additional van service to help residents get where they need to go.”

The Towns of Acton and Maynard provide limited transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities though funds from the MBTA and the Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) Senior Van Program. Each town has one van that brings passengers to appointments.

The Senior Van Program currently provides transportation for approximately 4,000 individual appointments per year and the vans are most often used to bring seniors to appointments at Emerson Hospital in Concord.

Those who need transportation for local appointments, grocery shopping and to-and-from the Council on Aging are limited to odd time slots or long waits between drop-off and pick-up because the vans must wait for the appointments at Emerson to finish before returning to Acton or Maynard. Adding additional van service specifically for those medical trips will free up the other vans to provide seniors with the ability to keep their local appointments and maintain their independence.

Representative Benson’s Office Update: January and February 2018

Around the District

In January, I met with the leadership team at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, where I provided a legislative update and heard from the Chamber about their 2019 budget priorities.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I attended the annual MLK Day Breakfast at Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton. The speaker, Boston Globe Associate Editor and columnist Renée Graham, spoke about Dr. King’s legacy, emphasizing his role as a revolutionary figure. I also participated in Career Day at Lunenburg Middle and High School, where I met with students and talked about my career in public service as an elected official.

On January 20, I attended and spoke at Ayer’s 2018 Women’s March with my daughter, Maya. It was inspiring to see hundreds of people from in and around the 37th Middlesex District come together to support equality and protest the current presidential administration’s policies.

In Shirley, at The Bull Run, I organized an Economic Development Day. I brought together House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, and Cannabis Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan to talk about economic development and the economic outlook for the Commonwealth. Nearly 100 business and community leaders came to learn about development opportunities for the north central Massachusetts region, and ask questions about state resources and best practices.

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At the Economic Development Forum in Shirley with Commissioner Flanagan, Secretary Ash, and House Speaker DeLeo.

In Acton, I stopped by the Acton Chinese Language School to celebrate the Chinese New Year. In Harvard, I was at a League of Women Voters panel discussion on women running for public office.  I also visited the Dr. Franklin Perkins School in Lancaster, where I attended their legislative open house and met with constituents and their children enrolled at the School. The Perkins School serves children and adolescents with special psychiatric, social, and emotional needs.

Legislative Update

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At the Youth Lobby Day for carbon pricing with the advocates.

January was an important month for my carbon pricing legislation. I was interviewed by Haverhill Community Television’s Richard Smyth, and I talked about carbon pricing and my role as an official observer at the United Nations Climate Change Conference last November. On January 23, the organization Our Climate held a Youth Lobby Day for Carbon Pricing, where dozens of young activists met with their Representatives and Senators to ask them to support carbon pricing. Seeing the grassroots activism among young people around my carbon pricing bill has been so exciting and encouraging.

At an MIT Forum, I spoke on a panel about carbon pricing, and my preference for a revenue-positive policy that would generate resources to fund renewable energy initiatives. On January 31, I announced the formation of a multi-state coalition for carbon pricing in association with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. There is a lot of momentum in Massachusetts behind the policy, and I’m hopeful that the Legislature will act on carbon pricing soon.

I hosted the annual legislative briefing on Special Education Circuit Breaker funding at the State House, where I discussed the important of this funding with my colleagues in the House and Senate. Circuit Breaker funding allows school districts to meet the needs of children with severe disabilities, including autism and other neurological conditions.

In February, the House of Representatives passed legislation providing further protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data security breach. In this legislation, credit freezes, lifts, and removals must be provided to consumers free of charge, and credit agencies must provide one year of free credit monitoring after a breach. I filed the original bill this legislation was based on back in 2016, and worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill after the Equifax breach.

The House also passed the PATCH Act, which would close a loophole that previously allowed for the private health care information of an individual to be shared with the primary health plan subscriber without that individual’s permission. The Senate has passed a similar bill, and the two bills are now being reconciled in a conference committee.

Committee Update

February was the Joint Rule 10 deadline, when the status of bills in most of the joint legislative committees must be decided, including the one I Chair, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. I worked with other Committee members in the best interest of the Commonwealth to make thoughtful, well-researched decisions on the hundreds of bills that came before the Committee. There are still several late-file bills in Committee, which will receive a hearing soon.

Looking Ahead

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Picking up my nomination papers at the State House.

I picked up my nomination papers at the State House in January to run for another term as your State Representative. Each time I’ve taken that yellow envelope, I think about the 37th Middlesex District – the friends I’ve made, the families I’ve helped, and the great honor it is to serve. I humbly ask for your support to continue this work. I attended several Democratic caucuses to collect signatures to get on the ballot in November, and will continue engaging with voters in the district throughout the campaign.

To reach out to my office for assistance with a constituent matter, or to express your opinion on legislation or budget items, please email Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or call (617) 722-2140. My district office can be reached at (978) 582-4146 ext. 4.

Sincerely,

Jen

Jennifer Benson

House Passes Legislation to Enhance Consumer Protections Following Data Breaches

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the House this week to pass legislation providing added protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data security breach that impacts a credit agency or other business.

Under this legislation, credit freezes, lifts or removals must be provided to consumers without a charge. Credit agencies or businesses must provide one year of free credit monitoring after any breach.

“This legislation includes many powerful consumer protection tools that also modernize the way we do business,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “I thank Chairman Chan for his exhaustive study into this complex problem and Chairwoman Benson for her ongoing commitment.”

“As an advocate for consumer protection, I filed legislation to make it easier for consumers to freeze their credit reports so that victims of identity theft and fraud could more quickly regain control of their credit,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg). “In the wake of the Equifax breach last year, I worked with the Attorney General and advocates to strengthen the bill with additional language offering further protections. I’m proud of my colleagues in the House for coming together to pass this important legislation to protect and empower Massachusetts consumers.”

The legislation updates the framework for the implementation of a freeze and related communication including:

  • Modernizes the current law by allowing consumers to request credit freezes electronically or by telephone.
  • Requires clear and accurate disclosure to consumers of basic information about credit freezes.
  • In the event of a security breach, mandates credit agencies place a security freeze on a consumer report within one day of an electronic or telephone request, and within three days of receipt of a written request.
  • Credit agencies must send confirmation of the security freeze within three days.
  • Credit agencies must lift a security freeze within three days of a written request and 15 minutes of an electronic/ phone request.
  • When a consumer requests a freeze, national credit reporting agencies must inform consumers of other reporting agencies that may have files on the consumer. They must also inform consumers of appropriate websites, toll-free numbers and mailing addresses that would permit the consumer to place additional freezes.

For the first time in Massachusetts, this legislation establishes specific guidelines for parents and guardians to freeze accounts of children under the age of 16 and incapacitated individuals.

The legislation also updates notification guidelines for breached entities and third party affiliates.

  • Breached entities must provide consumers with immediate notice and timely updates.
  • Upon receiving notice of a breach, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation must post notice online within 24 hours.

Additionally, the Attorney General must provide information online to consumers regarding the breach. This bill also updates current law to require companies and organizations to obtain consent before running a credit report.

Statement on H.3361 (Demographic Data Disaggregation)

Following a thorough process during which testimony was heard and collected from over 500 members of the public regarding H.3361, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight has voted to substitute the original bill with new legislation, titled “An Act to Establish a Special Commission to Investigate and Study the Feasibility and Effects of Collecting Disaggregate Data.”

This legislation would establish a special commission to study the feasibility and impact of directing state agencies to collect disaggregated demographic data for all ethnic and racial groups, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The proposed special commission would be comprised of 11 commissioners, including legislators, as well as members of the Governor’s Advisory Commissions, and appointees from the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office. The commission would submit its recommendations to the Legislature by December 31, 2018.

I had concerns about the original legislation from the start, but every bill must have, and deserves, a thorough process in committee and in the hearing room. I was disappointed at the vitriol aimed at Chairman Chan, Chairman Timilty, and myself from some opponents of H.3361. It was inappropriate and damaging to this process. I am appreciative of those who conducted themselves with civility while delivering passionate testimony.

Jennifer Benson
Chair, Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight