Rep. Benson Votes to Ban Conversion Therapy, End Welfare Cap on Kids

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) voted Wednesday to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors and remove the welfare cap imposed on benefits for children, in two separate bills passed by the House of Representatives.

The House passed H.140, An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors by a 147-8 margin. The bill prohibits licensed therapists from attempting to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The abusive practice has been shown to be harmful to LGBTQ children, causing higher rates of depression and suicide. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have already banned conversion therapy.

”I was proud to vote in favor of this legislation to protect children in Massachusetts,” said Representative Benson. “This bill will ensure that children in the Commonwealth do not suffer through the abusive, unscientific methods commonly used in conversion therapy.”

H.140 was referred to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, which is Chaired in the House by Representative Benson. The Committee recommended the bill ought to pass before referring it to House Ways and Means.


The House subsequently passed H.3594, An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids, by 155-1. This legislation would eliminate a cap placed on welfare benefits adopted in 1995 that prevents families from receiving additional assistance for children born while the family is already receiving assistance.

“Getting rid of the benefit cap is the right thing to do,” said Representative Benson. “There are more than 8,000 children in low-income families currently being denied benefits that they are otherwise eligible for.”

Of the 24 states that imposed family benefit caps in the 1990s, eight have reversed course and eliminated them. The Legislature passed a bill twice last session to eliminate the cap, but Governor Baker vetoed the legislation.

Rep. Benson’s January & February 2019 Update

Around The District

MLK Day Breakfast in Acton

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I attended the annual MLK Breakfast at Congregation Beth Elohim. Every year, this is a great event that brings the community together to celebrate the legacy of the Civil Rights leader. This year’s speaker was Roland Gibson, an educator and former METCO director who helped desegregate schools in Weston, Massachusetts in the 1980s. He spoke movingly on race in the United States and his life as an educator and activist.

Acton Piper Lane Site Visit

Also in Acton, I visited the site of a proposed 40B housing development on Piper Line, at the request of the South Acton Neighborhood Association (SANA). SANA opposes the project for many reasons; among them are concerns about traffic safety, density, and proximity to the Great Hill Recreation Area. After visiting the site and hearing SANA’s concerns, I sent a letter to MassHousing asking them to deny the developer’s application to proceed with the project.

Boxborough Solar Array
At the ribbon-cutting for the new solar array in Boxborough.

On February 15, I was in Boxborough with Senator Jamie Eldridge and Boxborough town officials for a ribbon-cutting at the new 5MW solar array constructed through a partnership with a municipal electric department. The array will provide clean, renewable energy to more than 2,000 customers in Boxborough and Littleton. As a longtime proponent of renewable energy, I continue to be impressed by the innovative ways the towns in my district have embraced solar energy and community solar projects.

Ayer Women’s March

I was honored to be asked to speak, along with my daughter, Maya, at the second Ayer Women’s March on January 19. It was encouraging to be among so many people celebrating equality, diversity, and progress. The organizers of the event did a great job of getting the word out, and the Ayer Police made sure we were kept safe and redirected traffic during the rally at the Town Hall.

Lunenburg Happenings

In January, I attended the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s annual briefing, where the Chamber discussed their policy and budget priorities with the legislative delegation. We share a commitment to workforce development, including supporting programs that promote careers in advanced manufacturing.

I also spoke at the Leominster-area Fund Our Future forum, and expressed my support for the PROMISE Act, filed in the Legislature this session, to reform the Chapter 70 public education funding formula. A few weeks later, I wrote a letter that was published in the Lunenburg Ledger reaffirming my support for the PROMISE Act.

Constituent Spotlight
Presenting Cathy Fochtman with a citation at her retirement party.

In January, Cathy Fochtman of Acton retired after more than 18 years at the Acton Recreation Department, including 12 years as the Department’s Director. At her retirement party, Senator Eldridge, Representative Tami L. Gouveia, and I presented Cathy with a citation from the House of Representatives honoring her years of public service. Congratulations Cathy, and enjoy retirement!

At the State House

The 191st Legislative Session began on January 2. Throughout the past two months, I’ve been busy drafting and filing legislation, meeting with colleagues to discuss policy, and settling into my new role as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

I filed 17 pieces of legislation this session, including six health care and five energy bills.

One of my bills would direct state agencies to collaborate on the creation of a Diabetes Action Plan to better understand the impact of diabetes in the Commonwealth. This information would then be used to develop public health strategies to address the epidemic. Another of my health care bills would create guidelines to allow patients faster and easier access to prescribed medications their insurers deem too expensive.

My carbon pricing bill garnered more than 100 cosponsors, including more than half the House of Representatives, to become the most supported climate change bill in the House this session. I continue to travel around the Commonwealth to talk about my bill, and I recently participated in panel discussions on carbon pricing in Lexington and Boston.

Another bill I filed would give cities and towns the option to use ranked choice voting (RCV) in local elections. In RCV, voters rank as many choices as there are candidates. If their first choice can’t win, their vote counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears 50%. RCV has been implemented state-wide in Maine, and used in dozens of jurisdictions across the country.

To protect students defrauded by for-profit schools, I refiled my bill establishing a Student Tuition Recovery Fund. The Fund would let students recover tuition and other costs if a for-profit school they’re attending closes, fails to provide the services promised, or violates state law.

You can view summaries of all the bills I filed this session on my website, JenBenson.org. After receiving hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters from constituents about their legislative priorities for the session, I signed on to cosponsor more than 300 bills.

Health Care Financing Committee Update

Speaker DeLeo announced his leadership team and committee assignments for the session on February 14, and I was honored to be named the Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. Health care has always been one of the policy areas I am most interested in and passionate about. As health care costs rise, and takes up a larger portion of the state budget every year, I’m looking forward to meeting the challenge of identifying policies to address costs and improve outcomes.

The Committee on Health Care Financing considers all matters concerning the direct funding of health care policy and programs, including Medicaid, MassHealth, and other public health assistance matters. So far, more than 150 bills have been referred to the Committee, and that number will continue to grow. My staff and I have started reading through the bills, and we will begin the process of planning and scheduling hearings for them in the coming weeks.

Circuit Breaker Briefing
The Special Education Circuit Breaker briefing at the State House

As I have done for the past few years, I co-hosted the annual budget briefing on the Special Education Circuit Breaker line item. The Circuit Breaker program reimburses school districts for a part of the cost of educating students with severe special needs. I was glad that so many legislators and staffers came to hear from education policy experts, as well as students and parents, about the importance of fully funding the Circuit Breaker program.

Signing of the Security Breach Bill

On February 26, Governor Baker held a ceremonial signing for the security breach bill I filed last session that gives consumers more control over their credit information and the ability to freeze their credit free of charge. The signing ceremony was the culmination of over two years of work with Attorney General Maura Healey, Representative Tackey Chan, and former Senator Barbara L’Italien. It was great to have advocates from AARP and MassPIRG in the room to celebrate the new new protections for consumers.

Watching the Governor sign my consumer protection bill
Meeting About Parking at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station

I attended a meeting with officials from the Town of Ayer, MassDOT, and the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, as well as Senator Eldridge and Rep. Sheila Harrington, to discuss the ongoing issue of how to move forward on the planned parking garage and restroom facility at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station.

The project has been in the works for over 20 years, and has had to overcome many hurdles, including funding, design, and the acquisition of the property. Progress is continuing, albeit slowly, and the legislative delegation for Ayer is continuing to offer help in whatever ways we can.

Looking Ahead

In March, I’ll be meeting with school committees and select boards in the district to discuss education funding in the FY2020 budget and the PROMISE Act. I’ll also be attending events to discuss my energy legislation, including a conference at Tufts University on carbon pricing.

If you wish to discuss legislation, or need help with a state government issue, you can reach my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or at our new office’s phone number, 617-722-2430.

Sincerely,

Rep. Benson Named Chair of Health Care Financing

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) has been named the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.

“I’m honored that Speaker DeLeo has named me to serve as the House Chair of this important Committee,” said Representative Benson. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with my Senate counterpart, Chairwoman Cindy Friedman, and the Committee members. We have a big job ahead of us and we’ll be working to address the high cost of health care and craft policy solutions that will benefit all residents of the Commonwealth.”

The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing considers all matters concerning the direct funding of health care policy and programs, including Medicaid, MassHealth, and other public health assistance matters. Health care makes up approximately 43% of the Commonwealth’s annual budget, and has been the fastest growing budget category in the past decade.

Representative Benson has previously served as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, and the acting House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.

Rep. Benson’s Legislation for the 2019-2020 Session

BOSTON — Last month, State Representative Jennifer Benson filed 17 bills in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Building on her record as a champion for energy issues, five of her bills address energy and environmental policy in the Commonwealth, including her ambition carbon pricing bill, which has garnered more than 100 cosponsors.

Energy and the Environment

AN ACT TO PROMOTE GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE AND REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

There is worldwide agreement among scientists and policymakers that the Earth is warming at an unsustainable rate due to human activity. In 2008, Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and pledged to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This bill puts a price on carbon emissions to incentivize a move toward renewable energy and help us meet or exceed the GWSA emissions target. 70% of the collected price is rebated to consumers and businesses, and 30% is dedicated to a Green Infrastructure Fund for local investments in renewable energy projects that will further reduce emissions and stimulate the economy. There are built in protections for low and middle income households, those who live in rural areas, and export-driven manufacturers.

AN ACT TO PROTECT RATEPAYERS

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has approved profit margins for electricity utilities that are significantly higher than our neighboring states. The Department has also approved automatic annual rate increases for Eversource 1.5% higher than the rate of inflation. This bill caps the profit margins of utilities at the average of our neighboring states (currently ≈9.2%), which will save ratepayers money and incentivize utilities to invest in renewable energy.

AN ACT TO ESTABLISH RATE OPTIONS TO REDUCE CUSTOMER COSTS AND LOWER PEAK DEMAND

This bill requires utility companies to offer on-peak/off-peak rate structures so ratepayers can save money by changing their energy consumption habits. This also incentivizes the use of electric cars, which typically charge during off-peak hours, as well as the usage of energy storage and the purchase of smart appliances.

AN ACT PROMOTING LOCAL ENERGY INVESTMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE MODERNIZATION

The energy market in Massachusetts is undergoing a significant transformation as distributed generation upends the historical model of centralized generation. This bill requires utilities to update the electrical grid for the 21st century and implement technologies that support the decentralization of generation, thereby allowing for more interconnection of renewables.

AN ACT TO INCREASE THE USE OF ZERO EMISSION VEHICLES IN THE COMMONWEALTH

Current law required 50% of all vehicles in the state fleet to be hybrids or use alternative fuel by 2018. This requirement was not met. This bill sets escalating, achievable yearly benchmarks, starting with 15% of vehicles in FY2020, with an end goal of 50% set in FY2026.


Health Care and Public Health

AN ACT RELATIVE TO DIABETES PREVENTION

In Massachusetts, more than 700,000 people have diabetes. This bill directs state agencies under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to collaborate on the creation of a Diabetes Action Plan to better identify and understand the impact of diabetes in the state. This information will be used to develop public health strategies to reduce the frequency of diabetes among residents of the Commonwealth.

AN ACT EMPOWERING HEALTH CARE CONSUMERS

This bill requires health insurance companies and the Health Connector to provide easily accessible and searchable information about prescription costs in their plans so consumers can make informed decisions when choosing health insurance.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO FAIL FIRST AND PATIENT SAFETY

Currently, health insurance companies can force a patient to try a less expensive treatment before agreeing to pay for a prescribed treatment. This practice is called “step therapy” or “fail first”. In some cases, requiring a patient to follow a step therapy protocol may have adverse and even dangerous consequences. This bill creates guidelines to provide a way for doctors to override insurance companies so a patient can more quickly access the medication originally prescribed for them.

AN ACT ENSURING ACCESS TO MEDICATIONS

This bill amends the “Any Willing Provider” law to close the “specialty medication loophole”, thereby allowing community pharmacies to fill prescriptions for specialty medications such as biologics, as long as the pharmacy can meet the standards required for handling and administering the drugs. This will make it easier for patients to access medications that treat many common autoimmune diseases and other conditions.

AN ACT TO ADDRESS THE FINANCIAL STABILITY OF THE HEALTH SAFETY NET

The Health Safety Net program allows acute care hospitals and health centers to provide essential services to the uninsured and underinsured. However, in recent years, the program has not been adequately funded. This bill strengthens the program by reinforcing the requirement that the Unemployment Assistance Trust Fund contribute at least $30 million per year to the program, and splitting the responsibility for funding shortfalls between hospitals and surcharge payers.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO CO-PAY ASSISTANCE

This bill makes permanent a provision in a bill enacted last year that allows co-pay assistance, often in the form of coupons, for prescription medications without generic alternatives.


Election Reform

AN ACT PROVIDING A LOCAL OPTION FOR RANKED CHOICE VOTING IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

This bill gives cities and towns the option to use ranked choice voting (RCV) in municipal elections. In RCV, voters rank as many choices as there are candidates. If their first choice can’t win, their vote counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears the 50% mark. RCV has been implemented state-wide in Maine and has been used in dozens of jurisdictions across the country.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO ELECTION DAY REGISTRATION (SATELLITES)

This bill allows people who have moved, have errors in their registration, or have never been registered to register and vote at their polling place on Election Day, or at a designated satellite early voting location before Election Day. This will increase voter turnout at little to no cost to municipalities or the Commonwealth.


Higher Education

AN ACT TO AUTHORIZE STATE UNIVERSITIES TO OFFER CLINICAL AND PROFESSIONAL DOCTORATE PROGRAMS

Currently, Massachusetts prohibits state universities from offering doctorate level programs. In the current job market, there is an increasing need for employees with higher levels of education, even for entry level positions. This bill aligns our state universities with those across the country by allowing them to offer clinical and professional doctorate degree programs.

AN ACT ESTABLISHING A STUDENT TUITION RECOVERY FUND

This bill creates a Student Tuition Recovery Fund to help Massachusetts students who have been defrauded by for-profit schools. The Fund lets eligible students recover tuition and other costs if a for-profit school they’re attending closes, fails to provide the services promised, or violates state law.


Other Bills

AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A MOTORCYCLE SAFETY FUND

This bill creates a dedicated Motorcycle Safety Fund that will provide $150 rebates to junior motorcycle operators who successfully complete a safety course. The fund is financed by a $2 premium paid by motorcyclists on their annual registrations.

AN ACT RELATIVE TO WHOLESALE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE PURCHASES

This bill allows a single entity which owns two or more retail package store licenses to cross accumulate purchases to obtain the higher quality discount.

STATEMENT: Rep. Benson’s Carbon Pricing Bill Gets More than 100 Cosponsors, Hits Majority Support in the House

“Thanks to the tireless work of advocates, organizers, and constituents, my carbon pricing bill, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure & Reduce Carbon Emissions, just passed 100 cosponsors! This includes more than half the House of Representatives. I’m proud to have the most cosponsored energy bill in the House, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to fight for carbon pricing this session!”

– State Representative Jen Benson