Acton’s Margaret Miley and Shirley’s Melissa Fetterhoff Honored as ‘Unsung Heroines’

BOSTON – On Wednesday, Margaret Miley of Acton and Melissa Fetterhoff of Shirley were honored as members of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women’s 2017 class of Unsung Heroines. Ms. Miley and Ms. Fetterhoff were nominated by State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), respectively, for their dedication to improving our communities.

“I am extremely proud that Margaret Miley is a recipient of the 2017 Unsung Heroine award,” said Senator Eldridge. “Margaret has been a champion for low-income families for her entire career, most recently as the Executive Director of the MIDAS Collaborative. Her passion and her work over the past few years has influenced the Massachusetts Legislature to expand the EITC, create pilot financial literacy programs, establish higher education tax credits, and reduce asset limits for poor residents. At a time when inequality in Massachusetts continues to be a glaring reality, Margaret has been a powerful advocate for working families to have a seat at the table of state economic and fiscal policy.”

“I’ve been working with Melissa Fetterhoff since I came into the Legislature in 2009, and I’ve seen what an effective advocate she’s been for the small businesses of my district as the President and CEO of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce,” said Representative Benson. “Her positive impact on the region through her advocacy and service can be seen in the small businesses she’s aided, the people she has helped find jobs, and the many community events she has planned. She’s professional, generous, and one of the hardest working people I know, and that’s why she deserves to be recognized as an Unsung Heroine.”

Margaret Miley has a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MS in business. In 1991, while running a small business by day and training Central American refugees at night, she decided to deploy her combined skills in the community development field. Since then, she has developed and managed many types of non-profit economic development programs, community leadership, business training & lending, a business incubator, and worker-owned companies. In 1999, she saw the promise of asset development when she joined Acre Family Daycare in Lowell, which started the first Individual Development Account Program in Massachusetts. She was the founding executive director of the Midas Collaborative.

Margaret was Commissioner on the Massachusetts Asset Development Commission, has spoken nationally on the topics of community-based economic development and asset-building, and is the author of a number of publications on financial education and asset-building. She serves on the Steering Committee of the Massachusetts Financial Education Collaborative, the Advisory Council for Private Occupational Schools for Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation, and represents Massachusetts in the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard partnership of the Corporation for Enterprise Development in Washington, DC. She hopes to find the time to keep bees in the future.

After joining the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2002, Melissa has served as its President and CEO since 2007. Over the past decade, she has helped the organization grow to represent more than 600 local businesses in the region. Under Melissa’s leadership, the Chamber has developed into an effective voice for its membership, both in the region and on Beacon Hill.

Melissa plans several regular events that benefit the Nashoba Valley community, including a biannual job fair, the Taste of Nashoba event showcasing the culinary offerings of the region, and countless ribbon-cuttings highlighting new businesses. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, as well as the Ayer Rotary Club and the North Central Workforce Investment Board. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Devens Enterprise Commission, Melissa has been instrumental in helping Devens to become a manufacturing and economic powerhouse in central Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women is an independent state agency that was legislatively created in 1998 to advance women of the Commonwealth to full equality in all areas of life and to promote their rights and opportunities. The MCSW provides a permanent, effective voice for the women of Massachusetts.

Rep. Benson’s Carbon Pricing Bill Receives Substantial Support at Hearing

BOSTON – Legislators, activists, academics, clergy members, and others crowded into the Gardner Auditorium on Tuesday afternoon to offer support for Representative Benson’s carbon pricing legislation. H.1726, An Act to promote green infrastructure, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create jobs, would put a price on carbon emissions to incentive a move toward renewable energy sources.

Representative Benson provided testimony in support of carbon pricing along with a panel of House Members including Representatives Cory Atkins, Michael Connolly, Solomon Goldstein-Rose, Stephen Kulik, and Denise Provost.

“In 2007, Massachusetts became a leader in cap-and-trade by establishing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” said Representative Benson. “Carbon pricing is the next logical step in reducing carbon emissions, and without it, we will not meet our 2050 emissions requirements under the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.”

Representative Benson’s bill differs from other carbon pricing proposals in that it is revenue positive, rather than revenue neutral. In H.1726, 80% of the revenue from carbon fees is rebated to households and employers, while 20% of the revenue is placed in a Green Infrastructure Fund.

“Many of the green energy incentives we have in the Commonwealth have left out a portion of our citizenry,” said Representative Benson in her testimony. “With 20% of the revenue going toward a Green Infrastructure Fund, we will be able to use those resources to fund regional transportation projects in rural and suburban areas, or low-interest loans for small businesses to implement energy efficiency upgrades. Offering these opportunities is a powerful way to multiply the effects of a carbon pricing regime.”

Representative Benson’s bill has gathered 59 cosponsors from both the House and Senate.

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,

Rep. Benson Joins Colleagues in Passing FY18 Budget

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson voted with her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week to pass a $40.4 billion FY18 budget which represents a commitment to fiscal responsibility and local aid. The spending bill protects vulnerable residents through investments in early education and care, substance addiction initiatives, and funding to help individuals with developmental disabilities.

As we face uncertainty at the federal level, this budget takes comprehensive action to promote sustained fiscal health in Massachusetts. For the fourth consecutive year, the House budget reduces the state’s reliance on one-time revenue. It includes a $100 million deposit to the stabilization fund, which will result in a projected balance of more than $1.4 billion and help preserve the state’s AA+ bond rating.

The House continues to fund local aid at historically high levels, with this budget increasing Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA) by $40 million and local education aid (Chapter 70) by $106.4 million. The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees 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 investment in regional school transportation by $1 million over the current FY17 level.

Representative Benson’s amendment to reinstate the regional bonus aid line item for regional school districts was adopted and allocates $56,920. Regional bonus aid provides additional funding to newly established or expanded regional school districts to help offset the costs associated with regionalization. In FY18, this funding will benefit the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, which formed in 2013.

“Throughout the budget process, I fought for increased funding for local aid accounts, and the final FY18 House budget reflects that,” said Representative Benson. “We were able to work together to craft a responsible balanced budget, while still maintaining our commitments to education and economic development.”

Additionally, Representative Benson’s amendment to increase funding for the Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Q-Grant program for K-12 students was included in the budget, as was her amendment to fund micro-lending programs for local community development organizations such as the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation.

Since FY12, the Legislature has increased funding for substance addiction services to unprecedented levels and passed two landmark bills to help address this public health epidemic. This year’s budget makes notable investments related to behavioral health and addiction, including almost $132 million for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. Additional provisions include $1 million for new substance addiction beds, and a $5 million increase for the Department of Corrections’ Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center.

After healthcare spending and local aid, the budget for developmental services receives the largest increase in the House’s spending bill. Given the growing and changing need for developmental services this budget funds an $87 million increase, bringing spending to more than $1.9 billion for these critical programs.

The budget will now go to the Senate for its consideration

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: March 2017

Around the District

I spent a lot of time in the District last month, meeting with constituents and attending legislative breakfasts. Early in the month, I went to the Johnny Appleseed Tourism breakfast to for an update about the tourism industry in north central Massachusetts. There are many encouraging signs of growth, but continued investment is needed at the state level to keep the momentum going. I attended the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) legislative breakfast as well, where I discussed my support for regional school districts and my efforts to increase special education “circuit breaker” funding for public schools.

I also stopped by the Nashoba Valley Job Fair to chat with employers and job seekers. The Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce has put on the event every year since 2013, with Representative Sheila Harrington and I acting as sponsors. Later in the month, I participated in the Boxborough Grange’s 131st anniversary meeting, where Senator Jamie Eldridge and I presented George Boyden, Jr with citations honoring him for receiving the 2017 Community Citizen Award. It was wonderful to celebrate Boxborough’s agricultural past, present, and future.

With Senator Eldridge, honoring George Boyden, Jr of Boxborough.

On March 16, I met with a group of Lunenburg Girl Scouts at my District office, where I talked about state government and being a woman in politics. I’m so happy to see more scouting troops studying government and encouraging their scouts to be civic-minded.

I also volunteered with Meals On Wheels, where I helped deliver food to the elderly in Acton and Boxborough. Along my route, I talked with many of them about what Meals On Wheels means to them, including Frances, who is in her nineties, lives on her own, and can’t cook anymore. She depends on Meals On Wheels to deliver a hot meal to her every day. I also met Stuart, who uses a walker to get around, making food preparation nearly impossible. He also depends on the Meals On Wheels program.

With a Meals On Wheels client in Acton.

Unfortunately, the program is being threatened by federal budget cuts, as President Trump’s proposed budget completely eliminates the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides much of the funding for Meals On Wheels. I believe that as our population ages, we should be protecting and expanding programs like Meals On Wheels, not eliminating them.

At the State House

March is always a busy month at the State House, as constituents and advocacy groups begin reaching out to discuss their legislative and budget priorities.

I had a lot of fun meeting with Girl Scouts from Harvard, who were visiting the State House as part of a program to earn their government participation badge. I also spoke to members of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, who were at the State House for their Community Leadership Institute program.

Talking with Girl Scouts from Harvard on the House floor.

At a forum on climate change hosted by Representative Frank Smizik, I discussed my carbon pricing bill, An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Create Jobs. The legislation would establish a fee and rebate system on carbon to incentivize a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

Budget Update

On May 22, the House and Senate passed a supplemental spending bill that includes additional
funding for sheriffs departments, the Department of Children and Families, and elder home care.
The House also passed a bill providing $200 million in funding for local road repair and
improvements to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Committee Update

The committee on which I serve as Chair, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection &
Professional Licensure, has been assigned more than 200 bills so far. We have started putting
together the calendar for hearings to examine each and every bill, and I’m looking forward to our first hearing in May.

Looking Ahead

In April, the House of Representatives will release their budget, and begin the process of drafting
amendments. I will continue to fight for my constituents’ priorities, including Chapter 70 education
funding, special education funding, and local aid. I encourage constituents to reach out to me at
Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or (617) 722-2014, to let me know what their budget priorities
are.

Sincerely,

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: January & February 2017

Around the District

2017 got off to an active start in the District. In the first two months of the year, I attended multiple Eagle Scout Courts of Honor and spoke at Acton’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast. I always enjoy going to the Breakfast to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work and hear from contemporary scholars and activists who are carrying on his legacy. It is more important now than ever for Massachusetts to continue to lead the nation in civil rights and protections for minority populations.

Speaking at a forum on education in Shirley

In February, I spoke at a forum at Trinity Chapel in Shirley on the topic of education, and how Massachusetts is working to provide access to quality education to all students, regardless of circumstance or disability. I talked about my legislation related to providing better education options for special needs students, and my work advocating for increased education funding. I was delighted that so many people turned out to discuss these important issues. My staff and I also met with various groups in the District, including chambers of commerce, libraries, and educational institutions to discuss their legislative and budget priorities for the 2017-2018 Legislative Session and the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018) state budget.

At the State House

I was honored to be sworn in as the State Representative for the 37th Middlesex District for a fifth term on January 4. It is a privilege to be an elected official, and I am grateful that you have put your faith in me once again to represent you in the State House. In February, I was re-appointed as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, where I will continue to review legislation concerning consumer issues, the issuance of alcoholic beverage sales licenses, professional licensing boards, and other matters.

On January 17, I, along with some of my colleagues in the House and Senate, announced the release of the Women in Government Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Policy Toolkit. The toolkit will help state governments across the country craft mental health and substance abuse legislation and policy.

Legislative and Budget Update

I have filed 31 bills so far this session, on topics including health care, energy, and education. I worked with Senator Eileen Donoghue and Attorney General Maura Healey on legislation that would establish a Student Tuition Recovery Fund to help students who have been victimized by predatory, for-profit schools.

At the Rare Disease Day event at the State House in February, I discussed another of my bills, An Act to Reduce Health Care Costs through Improved Medication Management. The legislation would give doctors the ability to override the “fail first” medication protocol required by many insurance companies. The protocol requires patients to try, and fail on a less expensive or generic medication before the insurance company will pay for coverage for the medication originally recommended by the doctor.

I also filed An Act to Promote Green Infrastructure, Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Create Jobs, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from the Commonwealth and help the state meet the emission mandates established by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. I filed the legislation after studying carbon pricing initiatives from around the world, and determining which methods would be most effective for Massachusetts and be compatible with our vibrant economy. I am excited that the bill is being supported by the Massachusetts Campaign for a Clean Energy Future, and about the swell of support the bill is receiving from constituents and others across the state.

In February, I hosted a briefing on the importance of Special Education Circuit Breaker funding in the FY2018 budget. Full-funding of the Circuit Breaker account allows schools to meet the needs of the increasing number of children with severe disabilities, including students with autism and other neurological disorders. I am looking forward to continuing my work with the MA Coalition for Special Education Funding and my colleagues in the legislature to ensure that the account is adequately funded in the FY2018 budget and future budgets.

Looking Ahead

In the months ahead, as the House of Representatives continues to formulate its FY2018 budget, I will continue to make sure that education funding and local aid are prioritized.

I am looking forward to attending many events in the District in March, where I hope to get the opportunity to speak with as many constituents as possible. If we do not connect in person, you can always email my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or call at (617) 722-2014.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Release of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Toolkit

BOSTON – On Tuesday, State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), along with State Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster), and State Representatives Claire Cronin (D-Easton), Carole Fiola (D-Fall River), and Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), announced the release of a policy toolkit to help state governments across the country craft mental health and substance abuse legislation and policy.

The Women in Government’s Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Policy Toolkit is the result of a year of work by the organization’s National Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders. A collaboration of state legislators, mental health professionals, and advocates, the toolkit targets issues such as access to care, housing instability, and recovery resources.

“I am incredibly proud of the work of the task force,” said Representative Benson. “I hope the toolkit will be a valuable resource for legislators across the country who are seeking to improve public policy around mental health and substance abuse in their states.”

Representative Benson serves as one of four Massachusetts State Directors for Women in Government, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of women state legislators.  Women in Government serves as a member-informed, policy-driven organization leading the nation with a bold, courageous, and passionate vision to empower and mobilize all women state legislators to drive sound policy.

Read the full document here: Women in Government Mental Health and Substance Abuse Toolkit.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: November 2016

Around the District

I was fortunate to be able to go to several events in and around the 37th Middlesex District last month. First, I hosted a group of Cub Scouts from Lunenburg’s Pack 1728 at my district office, where I discussed my role as state legislator, how a bill becomes a law, and the Massachusetts constitution. The boys asked a lot of questions, and were especially interested in the map of the District hanging in my office.

At Community Reading Day in Ayer.

At Community Reading Day in Ayer.

I also participated in Community Reading Day at the Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer. I read to a class of fifth graders, and they asked me about my job as State Representative. After I answered their questions about the State House, the kids proposed a bill to outlaw homework! I walked them through the process of how it would start as an idea, be written into a bill, be assigned to a committee, and then be voted on by the House and Senate. We held a vote, and unsurprisingly, the class voted overwhelmingly to outlaw homework! Their teacher was sure to remind them that it was just a mock exercise, and that they still had to turn in their assignments.

Speaking at the Ayer-Shirley High School Veterans Day program with State Rep. Sheila Harrington.

Speaking at the Ayer-Shirley High School Veterans Day program with State Rep. Sheila Harrington.

On November 9, I was back in Ayer to speak at the Ayer-Shirley High School’s annual Veterans Day program, where I talked about my stepfather, who was a veteran of the Vietnam War. Being that the event was held the morning after the election, I thanked the assembled veterans on stage and in the audience for protecting our right to vote, and for promoting democracy around the world. Later that day, I met with National Grid officials at a solar farm in Shirley to discuss energy storage technology and their initiatives to modernize the electrical grid.

Later that month, I attended the dedication of the Dr. Daniel M. Asquino Science Center at the Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) campus in Gardener. MWCC has been an excellent resource for the people of the 37th Middlesex District, and I was glad to be able to celebrate the dedication of the new Science Center in honor of Dr. Asquino.

At the State House

At the State House, my staff and I met with a number of organizations, including the MSPCA, the Carbon Pricing Coalition, and the Acadia Center. We discussed legislation related to animal welfare, clean energy, and electrical grid modernization.

Additionally, my Legislative Director attended an oversight hearing of the Joint Committee on Education on the topic of Chapter 766 private special education schools. The Committee discussed the findings of recent investigations, and discussed the legislative actions that may be necessary to improve accountability at these schools.

World Diabetes Day on November 17 was marked by an event at the State House, where a bill I filed, An Act Relative to Diabetes Prevention (H.3871) was a focal point. The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in July, and would direct the Commissioner of Public Health to establish a diabetes action plan to reduce the prevalence of diabetes in Massachusetts.

Chairing a meeting of the ASOST Coordinating Council.

Chairing a meeting of the ASOST Coordinating Council.

I also presided over a meeting of the After-School and Out-of-School Time (ASOST) Coordinating Council, which I co-chair with Senator Thomas McGee. The Council was created in 2012, and is tasked with finding resources and researching evidence-based policies to support children outside of school hours. We discussed the Council’s mission, and strategized about our priorities for the upcoming 2017-2018 legislative session.

Legislative Update

On November 21, my bill related to the state’s AIDS Fund was engrossed by the House of Representatives. The bill would rename the current AIDS Fund to the State Public Health HIV and Hepatitis Fund and ensure that the Department of Public Health can continue to use the funds for AIDS prevention and reduction efforts, but also for efforts to reduce illness and death related to HIV infection and viral hepatitis.

In response to the dozens of emails, letters, and phone calls I have received from constituents who are concerned about the result of the 2016 presidential election, I signed on as a co-sponsor to a resolution calling on Congress to abolish the Electoral College and allow for the direct election of the President by the popular vote. Additionally, I reaffirm my support for the National Popular Vote compact, which I voted for and Governor Patrick signed into law in 2010. The law will go into effect when states totaling more than 270 electoral votes have passed it. Currently, 11 states totaling 165 electoral votes have adopted the law.

Looking Ahead

In December, I am looking forward to spending 10 days in Israel to study the history, challenges, and opportunities there, for what I hope will be an educational and enlightening experience. When I get back, I will be attending events in Acton, Devens, Shirley, and Lunenburg.

As always, I encourage you to keep in touch by contacting my district office at (978) 582-4146, or by emailing me at Jennifer.Benson@mahouse.gov

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson