MassDOT Breaks Ground on Summer Street Reconstruction Project in Lunenburg

Representative Benson and others at the groundbreaking ceremony on September 12, 2018.

LUNENBURG – State Representative Jennifer Benson on Wednesday joined Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver, other members of the Massachusetts Legislature, and local municipal officials at a ground breaking event to celebrate the start of an $8.2 million roadway construction project in Lunenburg.

With this project, MassDOT will be reconstructing a 1.6 mile section of Summer Street and North Street in Lunenburg, Leominster, and Fitchburg, and adding new features including 5-foot bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the roadway.

“The Summer Street reconstruction project is one of the first issues I started working on as a newly elected Representative in 2009,” said Representative Benson of Lunenburg. “After almost 10 years of advocacy, it’s amazing to think that the residents and businesses along Summer Street will soon be able to enjoy safer, more streamlined roads and sidewalks.”

“MassDOT is proud to be carrying out this roadway construction project that will offer new multi-modal benefits such as bicycle lanes and sidewalks and help promote safe travel for all users,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “We thank the members of the public and local leaders who have provided support and feedback throughout the design process and we look forward to the completion of this project.”

The scope of work for this project will include full depth reconstruction, paving, installing drainage structures, granite curbing, guardrail, pavement marking, signage, and carrying out landscaping work. The full project is currently expected to be completed in 2020.

“This project is helping to improve a key corridor that is used to reach destinations throughout these local communities,” said Highway Administrator Gulliver. “We thank the MassDOT staff members who have planned this project so that it will provide benefits for all modes of transportation while ensuring reliability and accessibility throughout this area.”

Rep. Benson Reflects on Productive 190th Legislative Session

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

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

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

The Budget

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

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

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

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

Gun Safety

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

Opioid Crisis

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

Criminal Justice Reform

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

Women’s Rights

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

Minimum Wage & Family Leave

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

Consumer Protection

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

Automatic Voter Registration

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

The Environment

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

Protecting Our Youth

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

Veterans

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

Carbon Pricing

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

Looking Ahead

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

Representative Benson’s June and July 2018 Office Update

Around the District

Visiting Boxborough

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

Steele FarmBoxborough

At Steele Farm in Boxborough with Senator Eldridge.

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

Ayer Fourth of July Parade

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

Legislative Forum in Acton

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


Constituent Spotlight

Sheila Fitzgerald Kelly of Ayer Honored as Unsung Heroine

With Sheila Fitzgerald Kelly at the State House.

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


Legislative Update

End-of-Session Activity

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

My Credit Freeze Bill Sent to Governor

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

Opioid Bill Passed by House and Senate

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

Legislature Raises Minimum Wage, Establishes Paid Leave

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

Energy Bill Calls for More Renewables

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

Automatic Voter Registration to Become Law

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


Budget Update

Legislature Passes Final FY19 Budget, Overrides Vetoes

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

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

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


Looking Ahead

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

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

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

Sincerely,

 

Ayer Awarded $750,000 Community Development Grant

BOSTON – State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) announced the Town of Ayer has been awarded a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development for important infrastructure improvements in the historic Grove Pond Neighborhood.

“I want to thank the Baker-Polito administration for awarding Ayer this important community development grant, which will help provide sustainable infrastructure improvements for low and moderate income housing in the historic Grove Pond Neighborhood,” Eldridge said. “I have seen firsthand what a huge difference these grants can make for residents and communities, and I want to thank Ayer town officials for their dedication to making this important investment in our neighborhoods.”

“I’m thrilled that Ayer has been awarded this Community Development Block Grant to make improvements to the Prospect and Oak Street areas in the Grove Pond Neighborhood,” Benson said. “The CDBG program is a vital resource for Massachusetts towns, and I’m glad that Congress went against the wishes of the current presidential administration and funded the program in FY19.”

According to town officials, the Grove Pond Neighborhood suffers from deteriorating infrastructure. The water lines date back to 1896 and sewer lines to 1948. Both systems are obsolete and failing, and are a public health and safety threat to the households in the neighborhood.

The $750,000 CDBG grant will go towards building new sidewalks, improving roadway surfaces, and implementing new water and sewer lines.

Rep. Benson Votes to Pass $2.4 Billion Environmental Bond Bill

BOSTON – Representative Benson (D-Lunenburg) and her colleagues in the Legislature voted on Monday to pass a $2.4 Billion Environmental Bond Bill focused on improving climate change resiliency and adaptation, enhancing environmental and natural resource protection, and investing in parks and recreational assets. The legislation ensures that Massachusetts can continue to plan for global warming and a changing climate, including along our vulnerable coastlines.

“The changing climate is already affecting Massachusetts in the form of record-breaking storms, coastal erosion, and more frequent flooding,” said Representative Benson. “With this bond bill, our communities and industries will have the resources to take proactive steps to protect themselves from the worsening effects of climate change.”

“These investments protect critical natural resources, preserve our parks and recreational areas and aim to make our Commonwealth is more resilient to the threats of climate change for years to come,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I’m proud to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to fund these important initiatives.”

Among other spending, the bill appropriates:

  • $225,000,000 for community investment grants;
  • $100,000,000 for energy and environment coastal infrastructure;
  • $75,000,000 for municipal vulnerability preparedness;
  • $55,000,000 for river and wetland restoration programs; and
  • $54,000,000 for rural investments.

The bill also requires the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to publish an integrated state climate adaptation and hazard mitigation plan every five years. Additionally, the legislation creates and funds a Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund to fund the implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan, and state and local strategies for climate adaptation.

The Environmental Bond Bill also emphasizes the importance of public and parkland throughout the Commonwealth, appropriating $150,000,000 to tree planting, urban and suburban parks, EEA land acquisition, and trails. The bill also establishes an Agricultural Innovation Fund to finance grants for the Commonwealth’s agricultural producers.

The legislation now awaits action by the Governor.