Representative Benson’s Office Update: September 2017

Around the District

Speaking at a forum on single-payer health care in Ayer with Senator Eldridge and Jackie Wolf of Mass-Care.

I attended several events around the 37th Middlesex District in September, including a forum on single-payer health care in Ayer hosted by the Ayer, Lunenburg, and Shirley Democratic Town Committees. Senator Eldridge and I discussed our single-payer legislation, and Jackie Wolf of Mass-Care talked about the movement for single-payer in the state. I’ve spoken at several of these forums in the district, and it’s great to see so much enthusiasm for improving our health care system.

Later that month, I appeared before the Harvard Board of Selectmen to provide an update about legislative and budget items, including the home rule petitions Harvard has pending. I had a productive discussion with the selectmen about the petitions and other legislation.

Later in the week, I went to the Massachusetts Municipal Association legislative breakfast, where I discussed my carbon pricing legislation and my support for increased infrastructure investments. On September 28, I was in Acton celebrating the groundbreaking of the new Insulet manufacturing facility, which will support hundreds of new jobs. The next day, I attended the Minuteman High School legislative breakfast. I and other area legislators received an update from administration, faculty, and students about the construction of the new high school building.

At the State House
Last month, I was sworn in as a member of the board of directors of the nonpartisan nonprofit Women in Government. I have served as a Massachusetts state director for the organization since 2015, and I am honored to be joining the board of directors to help further their mission of supporting women in public office.


 

On September 26, I participated in a legislative briefing on maternal health organized by the Caucus of Women Legislators and the March of Dimes. We learned about legislation related to aiding preterm infants and infants born with exposure to substance abuse

I also attended the 31st annual Massachusetts Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony at the State House. We honored law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and commemorated eight officers who were added to the permanent memorial in Ashburton Park this year.

Legislative Update
At a press conference last month, Attorney General Maura Healey announced her support for legislation I filed to better protect consumers from data breaches like the recent Equifax hack. This legislation was also filed by Senator Barbara L’Italien, and is currently pending before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. The day after the press conference, I joined the Attorney General and Senator L’Italien in testifying in favor of the bill at its September 26th hearing.

Testifying in favor of H.134 with Attorney General Maura Healey

An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports was originally filed in January, and in light of the Equifax hack, I have worked in conjunction with Senator L’Italien and the Attorney General’s office to draft and propose updated language. The new language strengthens the bill by eliminating fees, establishing a procedure for placing credit freezes, mandating encryption of personal information in credit reports, and requiring that companies obtain consent before accessing or using consumer credit reports and credit scores.

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure is now examining the legislation and the proposed new language.

Budget Update
In September, the House of Representatives voted to restore $320 million in spending vetoed by Governor Baker from the FY2018 budget. I voted with my colleagues in the House to restore funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, housing for homeless youth, the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, and many other vital accounts.

Looking Ahead
In October, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight will hold several hearings. I will also be touring businesses in the district, meeting with local nonprofits, and attending a Shirley Board of Selectmen meeting.

I always enjoy hearing from constituents, and I welcome you to reach out to me via email or phone at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or (617) 722-2140.

Sincerely,

 

 

Jennifer Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District

Representative Benson’s Office Update: July and August 2017

Around the District

On July 10, I visited Little Leaf Farms in Devens with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. I met with the company’s founders and employees, and toured their massive hydroponic farming facility that captures rainwater to grow produce without the use of soil. It was great to see a small business in the district thriving and utilizing sustainable production practices.

Later that day, I spoke before the Acton Board of Selectmen in support of Indivisible Acton, Green Acton, Mothers Out Front, and other organizations that were urging the town to pledge support for the Paris Climate Accord. The Board voted to support the Accord and restated the town’s commitment to sustainability and protecting the environment.

In August, I attended the signing of a Community Compact between the Town of Harvard and the Baker-Polito Administration. The Lieutenant Governor and selectmen signed the compact, which commits Harvard to developing a capital needs assessment and an information technology strategy, and implementing traffic engineering improvements.

At the State House

I hosted a briefing in July with State Representatives Stephen Kulik and Peter Kocot on the topic of carbon pricing. A full room of Representatives and staffers came to learn more about the topic from Climate XChange’s Marc Breslow. I have been encouraged by the strong level of interest in my carbon pricing bill (H.1726), and I am looking forward to building on the momentum of the briefing.

Legislative Update

The Legislature recently passed a bill establishing consumer access to recreational marijuana with robust public safety and regulatory measures. The bill maintains the personal use provisions approved by the 2016 ballot initiative while instituting a 10.75% state excise tax, a 3% local option excise tax, and an optional 3% impact fee on top of the state’s 6.25% sales tax. Adults 21 and older can use marijuana, and possess up to one ounce in public and ten ounces at home. They may have six plants per person but no more than 12 plants per residence.

On July 27, Governor Baker signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into law. The law guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers, and makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy. I was proud to vote for the bill to protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.

The signing ceremony for the resolution condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

In reaction to the violence at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, I drafted a resolution denouncing white nationalists and neo-Nazis, and condemning the hatred, bigotry and violence these groups espouse. The resolution also urges law enforcement agencies to condemn white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideology, vigorously pursue justice in response to hate-fueled violence, and work to ensure the protection of marginalized and targeted communities. The resolution was signed by the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and Governor on August 17 at a ceremony at the State House.

Committee Update

Chairing my first State Administration hearing.

After more than 2 years of serving as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, in July, I was named the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. The Committee considers matters regarding public contracts, public construction, state regulations, state agencies, and open meeting laws. I co-chaired my first hearing of the new Committee with the Senate Chair, Walter Timilty, and I am looking forward to working with him and the House and Senate committee members.

Looking Ahead

In September, I will continue to review the more than 200 bills in the new Committee as I begin planning for hearings. I will also be going to several events in the district, including a forum on single-player health care legislation on September 12 in Ayer.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to comment on a particular piece of legislation, you can reach me at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or at my new office phone number, (617) 722-2140.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District

Representative Benson’s Office Update: June 2017

Around the District

Speaking at a forum on carbon pricing

I started off the month meeting with the Shirley Board of Selectmen, where Senator Jamie Eldridge and I provided an update about the FY2018 budget and our legislative priorities. Later in the month, I hosted a briefing in Shirley about my carbon pricing legislation, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs (H.1726). While it has been common practice in other countries for decades, carbon pricing is a relatively new concept in the United States, so it is important to me that I give my constituents the opportunity to ask me about the bill and debate the topic. I’m encouraged that so many people came out to learn about the legislation. The slides from the presentation are available at this link if you’re interested in learning more about carbon pricing.

At the State House

Meeting with members of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce

I enjoyed meeting with members of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce during their annual lobby day on June 6. We discussed the FY2018 budget, challenges faced by small businesses, and the Chamber’s legislative priorities. A few weeks later, Melissa Fetterhoff, the President and CEO of the Chamber, was honored as an Unsung Heroine by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women at the Statehouse. I’ve known Melissa for almost 10 years, and I’ve seen firsthand the great work she does. I was proud to nominate her for the Unsung Heroine award, and I know that she’ll continue to be an excellent advocate for the small businesses of my district.

On June 19, Harvard and Acton were awarded Green Communities Grants to fund energy efficiency improvements in their town and school buildings. Eric Broadbent was on hand to accept Harvard’s grant, which was presented by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton.

Legislative & Committee Update

Attorney General Maura Healey testifying in support of H.627

There was a burst of activity last month around several of the bills I filed this session. On June 6, a bill I filed with Senator Eileen Donoghue and Attorney General Maura Healey had a hearing, and the Attorney General provided testimony. An Act Establishing a Student Tuition Recovery Fund (H.627) would create a fund to provide financial relief to students who have been defrauded by for-profit schools that suddenly close, discontinue programs, or violate state law. That same day my bill, An Act Relative to Diabetes Prevention (H.1128) had a hearing where patient advocates and health care professionals testified in favor of the bill.

On June 20, both my carbon pricing bill (H.1726) and my single-payer health care bill (An Act to Ensure Effective Health Care Cost Control – H.596), had hearings. I testified in favor of both bills, as did many of my colleagues in the House and Senate. The hearing for my carbon pricing legislation was attended by more than 300 people, and I was proud to have the support of some of my constituents who traveled from the district to deliver favorable testimony. Similarly, my single-payer health care bill received support from many of my colleagues, as well as patient advocate groups. This bill would require the state to compare our totally health care spending with our projected health care spending if the state were to implement a single-payer system; if after several years the “single payer benchmark” outperformed our actual health care spending, the state would be responsible for developing a single payer implementation plan and submitting it to the legislature. I am looking forward to seeing the bills continue through the legislative process.

Offering testimony in favor my single-payer health care legislation

Toward the end of the month, I attended the National Legislative Summit of Women In Government, where I met with women legislators from other states to discuss issues such as the opioid epidemic, human trafficking, and economic growth. It is useful to be able to collaborate with legislators from other states so that we can compare legislation, discuss best practices, and work on solving problems in a bipartisan manner.

The House met last month to pass two pieces of legislation, one being An Act for Language Opportunity for Our Kids. This legislation will enable districts to implement alternative English language learner (ELL) programs that are tailored to better meet the specific needs of their ELL population. Also passed was the House’s adult use of marijuana bill, which was sent to conference committee along with the Senate’s marijuana bill. The conference committee is made up of 6 lawmakers (3 Representatives and 3 Senators), and they are currently working to reconcile the differences in the House and Senate bills.

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure held 2 hearings last month, where we heard and collected testimony on nearly 50 bills.

Looking Ahead

In July, the Legislature will pass a final FY2018 budget. A temporary budget was passed in June to allow the Conference Committee more time to reach an agreement. I will also be attending several events in the district, and overseeing another hearing of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure.

I can be reached at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or (617) 722-2014 if you have any questions or comments.

Sincerely,

Representative Benson’s Office Update: May 2017

Around the District

On May 4, I attended the signing of a Community Compact between the Town of Lunenburg and the Baker-Polito Administration. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and the Lunenburg Selectmen were on hand at the Public Library to sign the compact, which will provide state assistance for the Town to complete a cyber security assessment, implement a citizen engagement plan, and put into practice stormwater management measures.

Later that day, I spoke at a forum with Senator Jamie Eldridge organized by the Harvard League of Women Voters on the topic of health care policy. I spoke about my single-payer health care legislation, An Act to Ensure Effective Health Care Cost Control. The bill directs the state to compare total health care spending to a hypothetical single-payer model. If after three years, the single-payer model outperforms actual spending, the state would be required to draft and submit a single-payer plan to the Legislature.

Sen. Flanagan, Rep. Hay, and Rep. Benson with former Lunenburg Selectman, Tom Alonzo.

I also met with the boards of selectmen of Acton and Lunenburg, where I discussed the latest developments in the FY2018 state budget process, and legislation I have filed this session. In Lunenburg, Senator Jen Flanagan, Representative Stephan Hay, and I commemorated Tom Alonzo’s last selectmen meeting by presenting him with a citation honoring him for his years of service to the Town.

Speaking at a forum in Acton on environmental policy and activism.

On May 24, I participated in a forum in Acton on environmental and energy policy, where I spoke about my carbon-pricing legislation. In light of the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the EPA and their decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, it was encouraging that about 100 people turned out to discuss policy and activism.

At the State House

At the State House in May, I hosted the School Nutrition Association Luncheon to highlight the work our public schools are doing to provide fresh, nutritious meals to students. I talked about my bill, An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias, which would create a pilot program to help schools update their kitchens to make it easier for them to serve fresh, locally-grown food.

At the 2017 Lobby Day for Animals, I spoke about legislation I filed, An Act to Protect Puppies and Kittens. The bill would put further protections in place for dogs and cats sold by breeders and pet stores to ensure more humane treatment for pets. I also hosted another meeting of the After-School and Out-of-School Time (ASOST) Coordinating Council. The Council discussed ASOST funding in the FY2018 state budget, as well as recent successes in the latest cycle of the ASOST-Q Grant, which provided funding to enhance existing extracurricular programs.

My staff attended the Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Policy Summit, where they heard presentations about justice reinvestment and new insights from opinion polling about criminal justice issues. I am proud to be a member of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus, and a cosponsor of several criminal justice reform bills.

Legislative & Committee Update

Listening to testimony at a CPPL hearing.

In May, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure, on which I serve as House Chair, began holding legislative hearings. The Committee has already heard and collected testimony on over 50 bills, including legislation regarding alcoholic beverage sales, consumer protection, and the state lottery.

The House passed several pieces of important legislation last month, and among them was the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The Act would protect pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace, and require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who experience limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Also passed was An Act Limiting the Use of Prison Labor, which would require that any labor performed by Commonwealth inmates is performed within Massachusetts. I was proud to vote in favor of both bills.

Looking Ahead

In May, our office recruited a new District Director, Josh Bedarian. Josh is from Shirley, and grew up in the District. Please feel free to reach out to him about District matters at Joshua.Bedarian@MAHouse.gov. Our former District Director, Sean Rourke, is transitioning into the role of Communications Director, and my Chief of Staff, Cat Bunker, has taken on the management of my legislative portfolio and budget priorities.

In June, I will continue to oversee hearings of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure. I will also be attending the National Women in Government Legislative Summit.

As always, you can reach me at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or (617) 722-2014.

Sincerely,

 

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: April 2017

Around the District

Briefing the Boxborough Board of Selectmen on the FY18 budget.

In April, I visited the Boxborough Board of Selectmen to discuss the FY18 state budget and legislation I have filed, as well as several town issues. I provided an update about the local aid numbers in the House Committee on Ways & Means’ budget, which was released on April 10. I reaffirmed my support for increasing Chapter 70 education funding, and my plans to file an amendment for more special education Circuit Breaker funding. We also had a productive conversation about the deteriorating condition of the stretch of Route 111 that goes through Boxborough. After a lengthy engineering and environmental impact study process, MassDOT has pledged that work on installing culverts and repaving will begin soon.

At the State House

After returning from a week-long conference organized by the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks, I hosted a meeting of the After-School and Out-of-School Time (ASOST) Coordinating Council at the State House. I discussed my experience at the conference and the importance of integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning into afterschool programs.

I was proud to participate in Denim Day with my colleagues in the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. On April 26, all of the women of the House and Senate wore denim in solidarity with victims of rape and sexual assault to demonstrate that no matter what you are wearing, no one deserves to be, or is asking to be, sexually assaulted. I heard powerful, personal stories from my colleagues, and I was heartened by the outpouring of support and compassion.

With the Caucus of Women Legislators for Denim Day at the State House.

Legislative Update

At a forum on the future of health care in Massachusetts, I discussed my bill, An Act to Ensure Effective Health Care Cost Control. The bill would direct the state to compare total health care spending to projected spending under a hypothetical single-payer system. If after several years, the single-payer model outperforms actual spending, the state would be required to develop a single-payer plan and present it to the Legislature.

I also spoke about my carbon pricing bill at both the MIT Day of Action and at a forum at Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. I’m encouraged that the bill is gaining so much attention and support, and I’m proud to be a leader in the House of Representatives for environmental and energy legislation.

Budget Update

The House Committee on Ways & Means released their budget on April 10. During that week, my staff and I worked diligently to draft and file budget amendments while we continued to meet with constituents and advocacy groups about their funding priorities. I ended up filing 10 amendments, and after two full days of debate, several of them were included in consolidated amendments with increased funding in the final House budget. These included funding for ASOST grants for out-of-school programming, funding for micro-lending grants for community development organizations, and reinstatement of the regional bonus aid line-item for recently formed regional school districts.

The House budget funds local aid at historically high levels, with Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) increased by $40 million and local education aid (Chapter 70) by $106.4 million. The increase to Chapter 70 funding ensures that every school district will receive a minimum increase of $30 per pupil in FY18. The budget also adds $4 million to the special education circuit breaker and increases the regional school transportation line-item by $1 million over the FY17 level.

The Senate will present and debate their budget in May, and then a final FY18 budget will be agreed to in July.

Looking Ahead

In May, I’ll be participating in two forums hosted by groups in the District on the topics of health care and environmental legislation. For more information about these events, you can visit my Facebook page. I’ll also be continuing to meet with Boards of Selectmen to discuss their budget priorities and town issues, and attending several other events around the District.

At the State House, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure will hold its first hearings of the 2017-2018 legislative session, which I will be overseeing as the House Chair of the Committee.

As always, you can reach my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or by calling (617) 722-2014.

Sincerely,