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

House Engrosses Representative Benson’s HIV and Hepatitis Fund Bill

BOSTON – On Monday, the House of Representative passed to be engrossed H.3960, An Act renaming the Massachusetts AIDS Fund to be called the State Public Health HIV and Hepatitis Fund, a bill Representative Jennifer Benson sponsored and advocated for this legislative session.  This bill would rename the current AIDS Fund to ensure that the Department of Public Health (DPH) can continue to use the funds on AIDS prevention and reduction efforts, but also on illness and death related to infection with HIV or viral hepatitis.

“This is the first session I filed this bill, and I worked hard with my colleagues to get it through the House,” said Representative Benson. “As of 2013, Hepatitis C was one of the highest volume reportable diseases in Massachusetts.”

If signed into law this session, this bill would allow for DPH to use all voluntary tax contributions, grants, donations, and federal reimbursements, made to the fund, to be used for clinical and public health research, program evaluation, prevention and testing, and treatment services. The money would be allowed to be used for outreach efforts to inform groups within the public who are at high risk of infection with HIV or viral hepatitis.

While the bill would rename the fund to include HIV and viral hepatitis, the language ensures that the funds complement, and not replace, current AIDS-related initiatives, and would require the DPH Commissioner to consult with the AIDS advisory board to develop a list of priorities and protocols for the fund.

“The key to reducing the death rate for people reported with HIV/AIDS is ensuring that those already diagnosed remain engaged in care and targeting those at high risk,” said Representative Benson. “DPH is already doing a commendable job combatting this disease; the renaming of the fund will simply allow for the Department to enhance those services and expand research.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for engrossment.

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: October 2016

Around the District

Celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of Carlson Orchards with Sen. Eldridge and the Carlson Family

Celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of Carlson Orchards with Sen. Eldridge and the Carlson Family

Early in the month, Senator Jamie Eldridge and I visited Carlson Orchards in Harvard to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of their family business. We met with Frank Carlson and his brothers who still manage the farm founded by their parents in 1936. I presented them with a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives recognizing the Carlson family as a cornerstone of the Town of Harvard for 80 years. While I was there, I picked up some fresh apples and homemade apple crisp!

On October 12, I attended a presentation at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School about the Chapter 70 formula used to determine funding for public schools. I’m glad the school district is learning about the details of the Chapter 70 formula and the variables involved in determining school funding.

My staff attended the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting of their Public Policy Committee, where the Chamber discussed their legislative priorities and the four ballot questions that will be decided by voters. A few days later, I went to the Chamber’s “Lager with Legislators” event held at Gervais Ford in Ayer. I chatted with Chamber members about their legislative concerns and current events. It was great to be able to speak with so many small business owners in my district about the challenges they face and how they view the Commonwealth’s changing economy.

At the installation ceremony for the Shirley postmaster

At the installation ceremony for the Shirley postmaster

In Shirley, I was honored to attend the installation ceremony for the town’s new Postmaster, Sylvain Labelle. I talked about how both of my parents were employed by the United States Postal Service at one point in their lives, and the respect I have for postal employees and the work they do. I also presented Sylvain with a citation from the House of Representatives honoring him for his achievement.

On October 22, I attended the dedication of the new Lunenburg Middle High School. Planning for the new school began 13 years ago in 2003 when I was a member of the School Committee, so it was a wonderfully fulfilling moment to see the opening and dedication of the beautiful new building.

Voting early at Lunenburg Town Hall

Voting early at Lunenburg Town Hall

Later in the month, I went to Lunenburg Town Hall to vote early. For the first time, Massachusetts voters could vote early, and I was proud to support the legislation that made this possible.

On October 25, I spoke at the first in a series of forums organized by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce called Tools for Change. Along with Fitchburg Ward Councilor Michael Kushmerek, community organizer Joana Dos Santos of United Neighbors of Fitchburg, and Charles St. Amand of the Sentinel & Enterprise newspaper, I discussed how technology is changing politics and how to reach those who feel apathetic about or left out of the political process. I hope those who attended the forum found the discussion illuminating, and discovered new ways to engage their constituencies.

At the State House

My staff attended a briefing by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), where they were briefed on the changes being made to the commuter rail schedules. For more information on the altered schedules, which will go into effect on November 21, you visit mbta.com and click the “Fall Commuter Rail Schedules” banner.

At an event at the State House on October 31, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash announced that the Town of Shirley had been awarded a MassWorks grant to fund repairs to the Main Street Bridge. Selectmen Kendra Dumont and Robert Prescott, along with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, accepted the grant from Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. I am thrilled that Shirley was given this grant after trying for three consecutive MassWorks cycles to secure the funding. I was happy to write a letter of support for their application, and I know these funds will be put to good use repairing the bridge.

Looking Ahead

In November, I’m looking forward to a number of events in the district, including the Veterans Day program at Ayer Shirley Regional High School, and the Mt. Calvary Community Supper in Acton.

November 17 is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, and I encourage anyone who smokes and is considering quitting to use the event as a jumping-off point to begin the process. By quitting – even for 1 day – smokers can take an important step toward improving their health.

I hope everyone has a warm and pleasant Thanksgiving. Look for my next update in early December!

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson

Town of Shirley Awarded MassWorks Grant for Repairs to Main Street Bridge

BOSTON – At an event at the State House on Monday, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash announced that the Town of Shirley has been awarded a MassWorks grant.

The event, which focused on rural and small-town MassWorks grantees, was also attended by Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. Representing the Town of Shirley were Selectmen Kendra Dumont and Robert Prescott, and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin.

The grant of $725,000, is for the repair of the Main Street Bridge in Shirley. The bridge is heavily trafficked due to its location in the center of town, and crossing it is necessary to access town buildings (including the town Fire Department and Post Office) as well as the MBTA commuter rail station. The bridge, which has been in dire need of repair for many years, is the only route in the area that allows traffic to cross the Catacunemaug Brook, which divides the town center.

“I am thrilled that Shirley was awarded this grant,” said State Representative Jennifer Benson. “I was happy to write a letter of support for their application, and I know these funds will be put to good use repairing the bridge’s structure, sidewalks, retaining walls, and drainage system.”

The Main Street Bridge is listed on the State Register of Historic Places. Substantial repairs have not been made for over 100 years. With these funds, the town will be able to make the necessary repairs to ensure that the bridge is safe for both drivers and pedestrians.

“I’m very pleased that Shirley received this important grant,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge. “I was happy to send a letter of support to the state’s Housing and Economic Development agency on their behalf, and look forward to seeing the infrastructure improvements in our community.”

“It was an honor to be at the State House today to receive this grant from Secretary Ash,” said Kendra Dumont, Chair of the Shirley Board of Selectmen. “Our Town Administrator, Patrice Garvin, as well as our DPW Foreman Paul Farrar, and his assistant Pam Callahan, deserve a lot of credit for putting together the application and advocating for these funds over the years.”

The funds awarded to the Town of Shirley were appropriated as part of the economic development bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor in August.

Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Selectman Robert Prescott, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Chair of the Board of Selectman Kendra Dumont, & Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito

Governor Charlie Baker, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Selectman Robert Prescott, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, Chair of the Board of Selectman Kendra Dumont, & Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito

Representative Benson’s Monthly Update: August & September 2016

I hope everyone is having a pleasant fall so far and is enjoying the cooler weather and stunning foliage. Fall is a beautiful time of year in Massachusetts, and I would encourage you and your families to enjoy all that the 37th Middlesex District has to offer, with its many apple orchards, pumpkin patches, farm stands, and public parks.

With full formal legislative sessions having ended for the year on July 31, the State House has been relatively quiet. The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure, on which I serve as House Chair, continues to review bills and conduct legislative research, and my staff and I are still working diligently on constituent and town matters.

In August, as I do nearly every month, I called in to Fitchburg’s WPKZ K-Zone show. I discussed the new pay equity law, S.2119, which was signed into law by the Governor recently. The new law prohibits wage discrimination, and makes Massachusetts the first state to forbid employers from asking job applicants about their salary history during the interviewing process.

In September, I went to two Women in Government (WIG) conferences, where I discussed subjects such as education and energy diversity with women legislators from across the country. It was a great opportunity to discuss public policy and consider diverse viewpoints on various issues. I also attended Montachusett Home Care’s annual breakfast meeting in Leominster, where caregivers were honored for their work, and the company provided an update on their finances and activities. While I was traveling out of state due to a death in the family, my staff attended several briefings and meetings in my place. At the request of a constituent, my staff attended a briefing by the American Heart Association on H.3988, the Healthy Vending Bill.

At the State House, I am continuing to advocate for progress on the bills I filed this session. H.4185, which would grant Acton additional alcoholic beverage licenses, has moved through the Senate, and should be before the Governor for his signature in October. H.3871, An Act Relative to Diabetes Prevention, has already been engrossed by the House of Representatives, and has been tentatively added to the Senate’s schedule for October. I’m still monitoring and advocating for H.791, An Act Relative to Patient Medication Adherence (the Step Therapy Bill), and am hopeful it will be acted on by the Legislature soon.

Late last month, the House and Senate enacted H.4664, a supplemental funding bill to close out Fiscal Year 2016. I am delighted that the supplemental budget included funding for the Commonwealth’s Home Care Program to put an end to the waitlists for home care services that went into effect on September 1. I sent a letter to Speaker DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Dempsey in July requesting that the amended language be included, after being alerted to the waiting lists issue by many constituents and advocates.

Looking ahead, I have a number of meetings and events scheduled for October that I am excited about. You can follow along at Facebook.com/RepJenBenson, or stay-tuned for next month’s update.

To contact me, you can call my State House office at (617) 722-2014, or email me at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov. The District office in Lunenburg can be reached at (978) 582-4146.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson

Representative Benson Reflects on Session Accomplishments

BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature in completing a productive 2015-2016 session which included the passage of multiple landmark bills. Over the past two years, the Legislature passed major bills related to substance addiction, energy, economic development, civil rights, and regulatory reform, including rules governing the “ride-for-hire” industry.

As required by their rules, formal sessions for the Legislature’s two-year session ended at midnight on July 31st. While legislators will continue working for their constituents and in their districts, all major legislation that requires a roll call vote had to pass by this deadline.

“I am proud of all that we were able to accomplish this session,” said Representative Benson. “We worked hard to pass fair legislation that will help the Commonwealth remain the leader in many evolving industries, including ride-for-hire transportation systems and the clean energy sector.”

This session the Legislature took up various pieces of legislation in response to rapid shifts in economic, environmental, and regulatory landscapes, including a major energy bill. The recently-signed law will diversify Massachusetts’ energy portfolio and ensure reliable electricity supply by replacing older power plants that are due for retirement. These measures will protect the Commonwealth’s ratepayers while enhancing clean energy and securing a more sustainable future. The law supports 2,800 megawatts (MWs) of clean energy – the largest amount the Legislature has included in any single bill – and requires distribution companies to conduct solicitations for 1,600 MWs of offshore wind.

Recognizing ongoing innovations in transportation, the Legislature created statewide regulations for ride-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft that will improve public safety and consumer protection standards. At the same time, these regulations will allow companies to continue to provide pioneering transportation services. The law creates a new division overseen by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) responsible for regulating ride-for-hire companies. Companies applying for licensure must meet insurance, background check, pricing, and nondiscrimination standards.

Throughout the legislative session, Representative Benson remained committed to filing and advocating for strong legislation that in the areas of health care policy, improving education, assisting individuals with disabilities and their families in the public school system, and various prevention efforts for chronic diseases such as diabetes and HIV. Demonstrating her commitment to these issues, Representative Benson filed An Act relative to diabetes prevention (H.3871), which was engrossed in the House this session due to her leadership on the issue, and An Act relative to a State Public Health HIV and Hepatitis Fund (H.3960). In addition, Representative Benson successfully filed and advocated for the inclusion of a commission to investigate and study services for students with low incidence disabilities and to identify opportunities for administrative efficiencies and cost savings by school districts in the House FY17 budget.

Major bills co-sponsored by Representative Benson that made it to Governor Baker’s desk this session include An Act to Establish Pay Equity (S.2119), which provides tools to help ensure that men and women receive equitable compensation for comparable work. This law represents a consensus-based effort to ensure that the legislation would be practical, effective, and sustainable. Additionally, Representative Benson co-sponsored An Act to improve public records (H.4333), which updated the Commonwealth’s public records law for the first time in more than 40 years. This House-led initiative enhances accountability measures and creates a standardized timeframe and process in which requested documents must be produced. It also ensures that judicial remedies can be sought by those seeking public records.

On behalf of the district, Representative Benson sponsored Home Rule Petitions this session that were signed into law, such as An Act exempting certain positions in the police department of the town of Acton from the civil service law (H.2202), and An Act authorizing the Commissioner of DCAMM to convey certain land to the town of Acton in exchange for other real property (H.3792).  Additionally, impacting the town of Shirley, the Legislature voted to override Governor Baker’s veto to cut funding to the cities and towns that host Department of Correction (DOC) facilities. The prison mitigation earmark will remain at the Legislature’s FY17 final level of $2.2 million.

“Over the course of the two-year session, we were able to pass comprehensive bills that make major investments in our economy and infrastructure,” said Representative Benson. “In addition, the legislature worked hard to tackle issues facing our constituencies including providing clarity to owners of foreclosed properties, public accommodations access, discrepancies in pay among men and women, and substance abuse.”

Among the healthcare policy issues Representative Benson fought hard for this session was An Act relative to patient medication adherence (H.791). H.791, also referred to as the “step-therapy bill”, garnered a lot of support among advocates across the state toward the end of session. The bill, which would give prescribers more control over the medications they prescribe to their patients, received a favorable report from two joint committees, and remains in the House Committee on Ways and Means.  If there is no action on the bill through informal sessions, the Representative will file it again next session.

As Chair of the Joint Committee of Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, Representative Benson led the Committee’s work in taking up issues of licensing and regulation. During this legislative session, she was able to report out of committee An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealings (H.3806), which establishes a list of metals that metals dealers are prohibited from collecting, and establishes fines for those that violate this law. An Act relative to streamlining home improvement contractor registration (H.4022) was also moved out of committee and enacted into law. This bill allows residential contractors and subcontractors to use a major credit card to pay fees, thereby streamlining the registration process. An Act relative to in-house cafes (H.4452) was engrossed by the House and would allow grocery stores to hold liquor licenses for both on-premises and off-premises consumption. This would allow grocery stores to serve alcoholic beverages at their cafes, thereby boosting local economies and promoting greater consumer choice.

Other bills passed in the House this session include preventing trafficking of fentanyl, energy legislation lifting the net-metering cap, a bill to protect minors from dangers of indoor tanning, a license suspension bill for non-violent drug offenses, legislation to provide legal protections against discrimination related to gender identity or expression in public accommodations, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) without implementing new taxes or fees, and increasing the Council on Aging grant formula.

The Legislature will continue to meet for informal sessions through December.   Formal session will resume next January when the newly elected members are sworn into the 190th General Court of Massachusetts.