Representative Benson’s Fall 2018 Office Update

Around the District

Infrastructure Improvements

There has been a lot of activity around infrastructure projects in the district recently, with the construction season coming to an end, and funds being disbursed from grant programs. This summer, Shirley celebrated the opening of the new Main Street Bridge with a ribbon cutting. I was happy to assist the town in securing MassWorks funding for the project, which will ensure that the bridge over the Catacoonamaug Brook is safe for drivers and pedestrians alike.

MassDOT brokeground in Lunenburg in September on the Summer Street Revitalization Project to reconstruct a 1.6 mile stretch of Summer Street and North Street. The redesigned length of road will include a bicycle lane, sidewalks, and new pavement. This is one of the first projects I started advocating for as a newly elected legislator in 2009, and while it took nearly a decade to secure the funding, I’m glad construction is finally beginning.

Within a few days of hearing concerns about the condition of the platform at the Ayer Commuter Rail stop, Senator Jamie Eldridge and I were on the ground with town officials to take a look for ourselves on October 22. We reached out to MassDOT,and within days, we were able to get them to clean up the platform area,install a fence, and repaint the entrance.

I had a conference call with Shirley officials, the MBTA, and Senator Eldridge about the feasibility of paving the parking spaces at the Shirley Commuter Rail stop.Improving parking at both the Shirley and Ayer stations is important to increase ridership and convenience for commuters. Also in Shirley, I toured the War Memorial Building with trustees Scott Bulger and Norma Albert. The War Memorial Building houses American Legion Post 183, and is a popular gathering spot for veterans in the area. However, the building is more than 80 years old, and not handicapped-accessible. We discussed possible sources of funding to add ramps and an elevator, and make other repairs to the building.

This fall, it was announced that Acton was awarded a $75,000 grant from the MassDOT Community Transit Grant Program to fund dispatch services for the shuttle for seniors and residents with disabilities in Acton, Boxborough, Littleton, and Maynard. The transportation options offered in Acton by CrossTown Connect have become a model for transportation management associations across the state, and I’m proud to be part of the local delegation that advocated for this funding.

Events in Acton

On August 10, I was in Acton for a ribbon-cutting for the Acton and Maynard section of the Assabet River Rail Trail (ARRT). Construction of the AART began nearly 15 years ago in Marlborough, and it has been amazing to watch its expansion northward. Thanks to the determination of local advocates and the AART organization, Acton families and commuters will now be able to enjoy the 12-mile-long trail.

Later in the summer, I attended a meeting of the Acton Manufacturing Workforce with town officials, educators from local technical schools, and employers. We discussed ways to make careers in manufacturing more appealing to young people so employers can find workers to fill positions at their companies.

At the League of Women Voters – Acton Area candidates forum.

Even though I didn’t have an opponent on the ballot, I participated in the Acton Area League of Women Voters’ candidates forum, because I think it’s important to always be accountable to my constituents. I answered several voter-submitted questions about public records reform, the need for more women in public office, and education funding. It was great to be able to provide direct answers to voters’ questions and talk about my legislative priorities and record of accomplishments.

I also sponsored and stopped by the October 7 Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market to chat with constituents, attended the ribbon cutting for the new VNA Care location, and toured the Associated Environmental Systems office to learn more about their business. On October 12, I celebrated the installation of Rabbi Mike Rothbaum as the leader of Congregation Beth Elohim at a ceremony at the synagogue.

On October 15, I spoke at a forum in Acton on the legislative process and how to be an effective advocate. The event, organized by Chinese-American constituents, was similar to one I participated in in June. It was an excellent opportunity to discuss best practices for ensuring that your voice is heard with your legislators on Beacon Hill.

Constituent Spotlight

When Senator Eldridge and I attended the October 17 Community Supper in Acton, we recognized Joan Appleton for her decades of service to the community. Since 1985, Joan has volunteered at the supper as a manager, server, and cook. In her years there, she helped train hundreds of volunteers and served tens of thousands of meals.

As a member of the Manufacturing Caucus, every year, I nominate a manufacturing business to be the district’s “Manufacturer of the Year”. For 2018, I nominated Burkart & Phelan, Inc., a company that has been manufacturing instruments in Massachusetts for decades. I was glad company founder and Harvard constituent Lillian Burkart was able to come to the State House to accept the award and a citation from the House of Representatives.

Lillian Burkart with the Co-Chairs of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.

Women In Government Conference

In October, I attended the Women In Government annual meeting and health care summit in Washington, DC. I’ve been a member of this nonpartisan organization for years,and I joined their Board of Directors in 2017. At the health care summit, I moderated two panels, including one on public policy solutions for addressing the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.


At the State House

After School Program Funding Report
At the event announcing the release of the final report of the ASOST Coordinating Council.

The Afterschool and Out-of-School Time (ASOST) Coordinating Council released its final report on October 23. Years of research and study found that prolonged underfunding has left too many Massachusetts children without access to the afterschool and summer learning programs that would help them reach their fullest potential. The Council recommended establishing new funding sources to increase investment in programs and staff, including tapping into tax revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis. As the House Co-Chair of the Council since it was established in2009, I’m proud of our work, and I hope it will serve as a foundation for supporting afterschool programming going forward.

Supplemental Budget Supports Schools, Infrastructure

A FY19 supplemental budget was signed into law in October. After depositing $240 million in the Stabilization Fund, pushing it past $2 billion, the $540 million spending bill shores up underfunded accounts from last year, and invests $42 million in grant programs for school security and youth counseling. It also invests $50 million in local roads and bridges, and sets aside $10 million for the recovery efforts from the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley.


Looking Ahead

I’m thankful and humbled to have been re-elected to another term in the House of Representatives by my constituents. My staff and I are diligently preparing for the 191st Legislative Session. I’m looking forward to hitting the ground running as I continue to advocate for the district and pursue thoughtful, data-driven policy solutions that will help make Massachusetts a better place to live and work.

Please reach out to my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2140 for help with a constituent matter, or to let me know what your legislative and budget priorities are for 2019.

Sincerely,


Rep. Benson Reflects on Productive 190th Legislative Session

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Legislature to mark the end of formal sessions for the year and highlight the accomplishments of a productive 2017-2018 session.

Over the past two years, the Legislature passed major bills to reform the criminal justice system, strengthen gun safety, address the opioid crisis, protect women’s rights, aid economic development, increase veterans benefits, establish new consumer data protections, and improve energy and environmental policy.

“I’m proud of what the Legislature was able to accomplish in the 190th Legislative Session,” said Representative Benson. “We tackled some major issues, and ensured that Massachusetts remains a leader in civil rights, consumer protection, health care access, and energy policy.”

The Budget

Continuing a practice of strong fiscal management, the House of Representatives passed two balanced state budgets with substantial investments in early education, aid for low-income families, housing, and programs to prevent and treat opioid addiction. The FY2018 and FY2019 budgets included no new major taxes, and increased the state’s Stabilization Fund to $2 billion.

This year, Representative Benson led the successful effort in the House to secure more funding for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, which has been increased 8.7 percent over FY18 to an all-time high of $319.3 million. The program reimburses school districts for the costs of educating students with severe special needs.

Representative Benson also successfully secured funding for several district priorities in the FY19 budget, including:

  • $150 thousand for advanced manufacturing and technology training programs at Mount Wachusett Community College;
  • $25 thousand for the Lunenburg Eagle House Senior Community Center; and
  • $75 thousand for the Acton-Maynard Senior Van Service and the South Acton Commuter Rail Shuttle.

Gun Safety

With a series of tragic mass shootings across the country, the Legislature took action twice this session to pass policies to promote gun safety. A new law will prevent individuals who pose a risk of harm to themselves or others from possessing a firearm, as well as provide crisis intervention, mental health, and substance abuse and counseling services. In addition, the Legislature banned the sale, purchase, or ownership of “bump stock” devices, which increase a weapon’s rate of fire.

Opioid Crisis

The Legislature addressed the opioid crisis with sweeping initiatives to prevent and treat substance use disorders. The legislation expands access to non-opioid treatment options for pain management and establishes grants to benefit substance exposed newborn children. It also improves the quality of patient care at treatment facilities, expands access to Narcan, and provides more training for law enforcement to respond to behavioral health crises.

Criminal Justice Reform

This year, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the most comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in a generation to establish a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, and enhancing public safety. As part of the reforms, the legislation also raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from age seven to twelve and decriminalizes first offense misdemeanors.

Women’s Rights

With an uncertain future for federal action on reproductive rights, Representative Benson took action to protect the rights of women across the Commonwealth by voting for legislation to make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to repeal outdated laws directed at limiting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health.

Minimum Wage & Family Leave

In support of workers, the Legislature passed a bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over five years and create a framework for paid family and medical leave. The bill, which was the result of a compromise between labor and business groups, also phases out time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, and establishes a permanent sales tax holiday. The Legislature supported economic development across the Commonwealth with a bond bill that invests in public infrastructure, boosts manufacturing jobs, supports technological innovation, and expands career technical training programs.

Consumer Protection

In the wake of the Equifax data breach in 2017, Representative Benson worked closely with Attorney General Maura Healey and advocates on legislation to protect consumers in Massachusetts. The House and Senate passed Representative Benson’s bill, which provides added protections and resources for consumers in the event of a data breach. Under the bill, credit freezes must be provided to consumers free of charge, and in the event of a data breach, consumers will be provided with up to 42 months of free credit monitoring. Governor Baker returned the bill with several amendments, which the Legislature is in the process of reviewing. The Legislature must take action on these amendments before the bill can be signed into law.

Automatic Voter Registration

To support civic engagement, Representative Benson voted for, and the Governor signed into law, a bill establishing automatic voter registration in Massachusetts. The Secretary of State will adopt regulations governing the automatic voter registration system, including data security protocols and integration with online portals, by January 1, 2020. Under the new law, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and MassHealth will transmit residence and citizenship information to the municipality where the person lives. The municipality will then send a notice to the individual informing them that they have been registered to vote and offering the opportunity to choose a party affiliation or decline to register. If the individual does not respond within 21 days, their name will automatically be added to the voter rolls. Additionally, the House and Senate passed a bill requiring schools to incorporate civics education into their curriculum. The Governor returned the bill to the Legislature with some minor changes.

The Environment

Massachusetts is a national leader in environmental and energy policy, and the actions taken by the Legislature this year bolster that position. Representative Benson’s energy efficiency legislation (H.1724) was included in an energy bill signed into law by the Governor in August. Representative Benson’s language updates the Green Communities Act to make more efficiency options available to homeowners. Additionally, the bill sets a new, ambitious energy storage target for electricity distributors, and authorizes the procurement of an additional 1,600Mwh of wind energy. Importantly, it also eliminates the “demand charge” forced on solar customers by some utility companies. An environmental bond bill signed into law will dedicate $2.4 billion to climate change resiliency and adaptation projects, and enhance environmental and natural resource protections.

Protecting Our Youth

As part of an ongoing effort to protect the health of our youth, only those aged 21 or older may purchase tobacco products in Massachusetts as a result of the Legislature’s action on this issue.

Veterans

The Legislature also honored Massachusetts veterans by passing the BRAVE Act to increase assistance for indigent veterans’ funeral and burial expenses, increase paid leave for service members to 40 days, and designate April 5 as Gold Star Wives Day.

Carbon Pricing

Representative Benson’s carbon pricing bill, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs received substantial support from her colleagues, but was ultimately sent to study by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. She has pledged to renew her efforts next year and refile the bill.

Looking Ahead

The House and Senate will continue to meet in informal sessions through December. Formal sessions will resume in January 2019 when the members are sworn in for the 191st General Court of Massachusetts.

Representative Benson’s June and July 2018 Office Update

Around the District

Visiting Boxborough

In June, I attended the 52nd annual Fifer’s Day in Boxborough, where I presented this year’s winner of the Golden Fife Award, Owen Neville, with a citation honoring him for his decades of service to the town. Fifer’s Day is a great event celebrating the Colonial history of Boxborough, and I look forward to it every year.

Steele FarmBoxborough

At Steele Farm in Boxborough with Senator Eldridge.

Senator Jamie Eldridge and I were at Steele Farm in July to celebrate the $50,000 in funding we were able to secure in the FY18 state budget for the restoration of the historic Levi Wetherbee Farmhouse. The house was built in the 18th century, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. I was happy to support the budget amendment and fight for the funding to be restored after Governor Baker vetoed it last year.

Ayer Fourth of July Parade

I marched in the Ayer Fourth of July parade with my family, Senator Eldridge, and supporters from the Ayer Democratic Town Committee and surrounding towns. We walked from Saint Mary’s Church to Pirone Park, making our way through Ayer’s beautiful and historic downtown. This was Ayer’s 25th annual Fourth of July parade, and I was honored to be there to celebrate with them.

Legislative Forum in Acton

After being approached by an Acton resident about how to start a dialogue with your elected officials, I decided to host a forum in town on the topic. On June 14, I delivered a presentation on the legislative process in Massachusetts, and explained some best practices for reaching out to your elected officials and asking them to support or oppose legislation. I answered a lot of thoughtful questions and had many productive discussions with constituents.


Constituent Spotlight

Sheila Fitzgerald Kelly of Ayer Honored as Unsung Heroine

With Sheila Fitzgerald Kelly at the State House.

At the State House in June, Sheila Fitzgerald Kelly of Ayer was honored as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women’s 2018 class of Unsung Heroines. I nominated Sheila for this recognition because of the amazing job she did as the lead organizer of the 2018 Ayer Women’s March. Sheila and others planned a rally in the Ayer town center attended by more than 400 people that brought together activists, legislators, and citizens to champion the values of equality, diversity, and economic justice. Sheila has modeled how to be an engaged, active participant in civic life for years, and I’m glad I could help her be recognized for her work.


Legislative Update

End-of-Session Activity

According to the joint rules of the House and Senate, formal sessions end July 31 of the second year of the Legislative Session. Given this, there is typically a flurry of activity in June and July of even-numbered years. 2018 was no exception. The House took dozens of votes these past two months, and several major pieces of legislation were sent to the Governor for his signature.

My Credit Freeze Bill Sent to Governor

The final version of my consumer protection credit freeze legislation was sent to the Governor in July. The bill prohibits consumers from being charged for credit freezes and provides up to 42 months of free credit monitoring services in the event of a data breach. It also requires financial institutions to obtain the consent of a consumer before accessing or using their credit report.

Opioid Bill Passed by House and Senate

Among the bills passed by the House and Senate and sent to the Governor in June and July was An Act for Prevention and Access to Appropriate Care and Treatment of Addiction. This legislation continues our commitment to facing the addiction crisis head-on by expanding access to non-opioid pain management, requiring addiction care facilities to accept MassHealth, and increasing access to Narcan for hospitals and first responders. It also expands the availability of medication-assisted treatment, and creates a commission to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic.

Legislature Raises Minimum Wage, Establishes Paid Leave

On June 28, the governor signed into law an act that raises the minimum wage, establishes paid family and medical leave, phases out time-and-a-half pay, and designates a permanent annual sales tax holiday. The legislation was the result of a compromise between stakeholders sponsoring proposed ballot questions for the November 2018 election. Under the new law, over the next five years, the hourly minimum wage will be raised to $15, the tipped minimum wage will increase the o $6.75, and time-and-half pay for retail workers on Sundays and holidays will be phased out. Most employees will have access to 12 weeks of paid family leave, and 20 weeks of paid medical leave.

Energy Bill Calls for More Renewables

An energy bill was passed by the House and Senate in the final days of the Legislative Session that requires electricity suppliers to increase the percentage of their energy that comes from renewable sources. Included in the bill is language I drafted and filed to update the Green Community Act to make more efficiency options available to homeowners.  The bill also sets a new, ambitious energy storage target for electricity distributors of 1000Mwh by 2025, and authorizes the procurement of an additional 1,600Mwh of wind energy. Importantly, it also eliminates the “demand charge” forced on solar customers by some utility companies.

Automatic Voter Registration to Become Law

Also sent to the Governor’s desk were acts to establish automatic voter registration, raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21, fund economic development projects, and repeal archaic laws prohibiting access to reproductive health options for women. There will be a more comprehensive summary of major bills passed by the Legislature in 2017 and 2018 in my Session Update to be published later this month.


Budget Update

Legislature Passes Final FY19 Budget, Overrides Vetoes

The House and Senate passed the final FY19 state budget in July, and it was signed by Governor Baker on July 26, 2018. The $41.88 billion budget features no new taxes, and makes a large deposit in the Stabilization Fund. The Legislature approved an unprecedented $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, which represents an increase of 3.4 percent over FY18.

Having led the campaign in the House for additional resources for the Special Education Circuit Breaker program, I was thrilled that funding for the program will see an 8.7 percent increase over FY18 to an all-time high of $319.3 million. The program reimburses school districts for the costs of educating students with severe special needs.

The Governor vetoed several million dollars in funding for local projects, including district priorities in Lunenburg and Acton. However, the Legislature acted quickly to override the vetoes and restore funding to these accounts.


Looking Ahead

For the rest of the summer, I’m looking forward to spending some time in the District with my family. The next monthly update will be published in the fall.

Later this month, as I do every two years, I will be publishing a Session Update on the accomplishments of the 190th General Court of Massachusetts.

You can contact me at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or (617) 722-2140. My District office in Lunenburg can be reached at (978) 582-4146.

Sincerely,

 

Representative Benson’s April 2018 Office Update

Around the District

With Senator Jamie Eldridge, meeting with the Boxborough Board of Selectmen

Last month, I continued my series of discussions with the Boards of Selectmen in the district, and was able to meet with the selectmen from Boxborough and Ayer. We discussed the towns’ legislative priorities and local issues, and I reiterated by commitment to fighting for more local aid and education funding in the FY19 budget. I also met with the Chiefs of Police in Lunenburg and Shirley to talk about their departments’ legislative and budget concerns.

I attended the Harvard Multicultural Council grantee reception, where grants were awarded to many of Harvard’s cultural institutions. I have always been a supporter of the arts, and I appreciate the important work local cultural councils do to make our towns more vibrant and inclusive places.

At the topping-off ceremony for the new Minuteman Regional Technical High School

In Acton, I helped honor three new Eagle Scouts: Calvin Benelli, Eric Liu, and Luke Phillips. I presented the Scouts with official citations from the House of Representatives, and thanked them for their contributions to our community through their service projects. Later in the month, I attended a presentation at the Boxborough Historical Society about the 1938 New England hurricane that devastated Massachusetts. I also participated in the topping-off ceremony for the new Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School, which will serve students from Acton. The new building is expected to open in the fall of 2019.

Legislative Update

On April 4, the Legislature passed a set of major criminal justice reforms. The legislation creates a process for the expungement of certain criminal records for juveniles and young adults, and for instances where an offense is no longer considered a crime. It also raises the age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve years old, decriminalizes some first offense misdemeanors, and eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for many low-level non-violent crimes. I was proud to vote for the bill, which was signed into law by Governor Baker on April 13.

The Senate passed legislation to protect the credit data of consumers. A conference committee will reconcile the differences between the Senate bill and the legislation passed by the House in February, which was based on the bill I filed titled An Act Removing Fees For Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports.

Budget Update

Last month, I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass our FY19 budget. The $41.1 billion balanced budget manages to increase funding for local aid and education, despite an uncertain revenue forecast.

I was able to secure funding for several district priorities, including:

  • $150 thousand for advanced manufacturing and technology training programs at Mount Wachusett Community College;
  • $500 thousand for Smart Growth School District Reimbursement;
  • $75 thousand for the Acton-Maynard Senior Van Service and the South Acton Commuter Rail Shuttle; and
  • $25 thousand for the Lunenburg Eagle House Senior Community Center.

To continue the fight against the opioid epidemic, the House budget funds the creation of five new recovery centers across the state, and provides increased funding for diversion programs and the bulk purchase of naloxone.

Looking Ahead

I received my certification from the Secretary of State’s office that I turned in enough signatures to appear on the ballot this year. Thank you to everyone who collected signatures and signed my nomination papers. I look forward to once again earning your vote in November.

In May, the House is planning to take up legislation in the areas of public health and public safety. You can always reach out to my office for help with a state government issue or to express an opinion on legislation by emailing Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, by calling my State House office at (617) 722-2140 or my district office at (978) 582-4146 ext. 4.

Sincerely,

 

 

Jennifer Benson

Representative Benson’s March 2018 Office Update

Around the District

In March, I attended several events and meetings in the district. First, I was in Acton at the Discovery Museum for the grand opening of their newly renovated building. It was great to see so many community leaders come out to support the Museum, which has been a must-see attraction in the region for decades.

I met with the Harvard and Lunenburg Boards of Selectmen to discuss education, infrastructure, and local aid funding in the upcoming FY 2019 budget. As always, my main concerns during the budget debate will be fighting for district priorities, including increased education funding. I also met with Acton’s Chief and Deputy Chief of Police to discuss the town’s public safety legislative and budget priorities.

Additionally, Lunenburg and Harvard have two new Eagle Scouts, and I was privileged to attend their Courts of Honor on March 10. For their Eagle Scout projects, Owen Parker of Lunenburg installed and landscaped a veterans memorial in town, and Jonathan McWhite of Harvard installed lights on the veterans flag poles at two cemeteries in town. I presented both young men with citations congratulating them on their achievement, and thanked them for their service to their communities.

In Acton, I co-hosted a Gun Violence Prevention Forum with Senator Jamie Eldridge that was organized by two Acton-Boxborough Regional High School students, Mackenzie Cooper and Rachel Pryke. I’ve been inspired by the activism of students like Mackenzie and Rachel, and the forum provided an opportunity to discuss gun violence with the input of public policy experts and community members.

At the State House

With the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Institute.

At an event at the State House hosted by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, I spoke with the members of their Community Leadership Institute. I discussed why I initially ran for public office, and why leadership is an important part of my job as a state representative and committee chairwoman. I also hosted another meeting of the After-School and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council, where the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center gave a presentation about inequality in funding for after school programs.

On March 27, Representative Stephan Hay and I met with Unitil to discuss the high electricity bills some constituents in Lunenburg received this winter. The primary reasons given for the high bills were the record-setting cold weather in January, and the high cost of natural gas for electricity generation. The company was not able to answer all of my questions, but has promised to get back to me with more technical information.

Legislative Update

In March, a bill was passed in the House of Representatives that would regulate and tax short term rentals like those offered through Airbnb. The legislation would create a registry of short term rentals, and establish a tiered taxation system based on the number of units a host oversees. Cities and towns would have the option of adding a local excise tax, with at least half of the revenue going toward infrastructure or low-and-moderate-income housing. The Senate needs to weigh in before a final bill can proceed to the Governor’s desk.

The House also passed a collection of reforms to House Rules to strengthen sexual harassment protections. The reforms include expanding the House’s office of human resources, improving the investigation process for harassment complaints, and mandating sexual harassment training for all representatives and staff.

Hearing testimony at a State Administration and Regulatory Oversight hearing

I also attended the quarterly regional meeting of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Connecticut, where I met with state legislators from around the country to discuss our carbon pricing proposals. Additionally, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight held a hearing on March 14 on several late file bills.

Looking Ahead

In April, during the budget debate, I will be advocating for education funding and local aid, and the priorities of the towns and constituents of my district. You can reach my office by emailing Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, by calling my State House office at (617) 722-2140 or my district office at (978) 582-4146 ext. 4.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Jennifer Benson