Harvard Awarded $192K Grant to Renovate Old Library

HARVARD – Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) announced today that the Town of Harvard, Massachusetts has been awarded $192,000 by the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund to renovate and make accessible the Hapgood Library (also known as the Old Library).

The Old Library, located at 7 Fairbanks Street in the center of town, is currently leased by the Harvard Cultural Collaborative. The Collaborative uses the library as a community center and cultural exhibit space.

“I was happy to support the Harvard Cultural Collaborative’s mission to improve the accessibility of the Old Library,” said Representative Benson. “They’ve done so much to support the arts and culture in the region, and I’m excited that once the renovations are complete, even more people will have access to their programs.”

“I’m very happy that the Town of Harvard has received this grant to upgrade the Old Library,” Senator Eldridge said. “The library is an important community space that serves as a center of learning, including educating Harvard residents about the town’s unique history, cultural contributions, and people. I was pleased to advocate for this state funding for the Hapgood Library, which I have fond memories of visiting earlier on in my legislative career.”

“I’m thrilled that the Old Library will soon be accessible to everyone,” said Willie Wickman, Treasurer for the Harvard Cultural Collaborative. “Thank you to Senator Eldridge and Representative Benson for your advocacy and support in helping us secure this funding.”

Built in the late 19th Century, the building is a cultural treasure of historic value. The funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Facility Fund will allow for the construction of a single wheelchair-accessible front entrance, so that all Harvard residents will be able to participate in the artistic displays and activities offered by the Harvard Cultural Collaborative.

The Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 2006 to increase investment in the development of cultural facilities across the Commonwealth. Over the past 11 years, the Fund has made more than 800 grants totaling more than $100 million. The Fund is administered by MassDevelopment and the Mass Cultural Council.

Representative Benson’s April 2018 Office Update

Around the District

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

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

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

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

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

Legislative Update

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

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

Budget Update

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

Sincerely,

 

 

Jennifer Benson

Rep. Benson Votes with House to Pass Balanced Budget Focused on Local Aid

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives last week to pass its FY19 budget. Funded at $41.064 billion, the House budget maintains funding for key programs amidst an uncertain revenue forecast and uncertainty about federal funding. It includes no new broad-based taxes, and projects an $88 million deposit into the Stabilization Fund.

“This is a fiscally-sound budget that addresses key House priorities and sets the standard for supporting those facing adversity,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “I am particularly proud of the work we have done on early education and care, and I believe that our efforts will have a lasting impact on the lives of countless families. I want to offer my sincere thanks to Chairman Sánchez for his hard work and my colleagues who provided invaluable insight.”

The budget increases Unrestricted Government General Aid and local education funding by $220 million over FY18, and $54 million over the Governor’s budget proposal. It provides an unprecedented $4.9 billion in Chapter 70 education funding, including an increase of $39 million from FY18 to address increasing teacher and faculty healthcare costs, as recommended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Additional education and local aid allocations include:

  • $300 million for Circuit Breaker Special Education reimbursement;
  • $90 million for Charter School Reimbursement;
  • $63.5 million for Regional School Transportation reimbursement.

I was proud to vote in favor of the House’s balanced and thoughtful FY19 budget,” said Representative Benson. “This budget prioritizes local aid and education, and makes clear that the House is committed to investing in services that lift up families.”

Representative Benson was also successful in securing funding for several district-specific priorities, 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
  • $75 thousand for the Acton-Maynard Senior Van Service and the South Acton Commuter Rail Shuttle

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that continues to take lives at an alarming rate. Recent data show that previous investments have made an impact: the number of opioid-related deaths decreased in 2017. However, hospitals, police departments, and EMTs report an ever-rising number of overdoses, underscoring the need to invest in treatment and recovery. To help those in need, the House budget includes:

  • $139 million for the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services which will help create five new recovery centers across Massachusetts;
  • $5 million for diversion programs to direct people into community-based treatment programs;
  • $4.9 million for step-down recovery services;
  • $1 million for the purchase of Narcan for first responders and an expansion of the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund

MassHealth is the single largest investment that the Commonwealth makes in its most vulnerable residents. In addition to MassHealth funding, which provides health insurance for almost 2 million residents, the budget ensures funding for crucial health and human services including:

  • Increases funding for the Department of Mental Health by $97 million over FY18;
  • $989 million to continue reforms that protect children at the Department of Children and Families;
  • Increases the Councils on Aging formula grant from $10 to $12 per individual, per year;
  • $100,000 to establish the Office of Health Equity, which will look at factors like housing and culture to coordinate efforts and eliminate health disparities;
  • $4.2 million for veterans outreach centers.

In light of recent news at the Massachusetts State Police, the House budget recommends a three-tiered approach to address the future of the State Police. The proposed updates will monitor the agency, help develop best practices, and prevent issues from occurring in the future.

The budget now goes to the Senate.

Representative Benson’s March 2018 Office Update

Around the District

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

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

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

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

At the State House

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

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

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

Legislative Update

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

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

Hearing testimony at a State Administration and Regulatory Oversight hearing

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

Looking Ahead

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

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Jennifer Benson

Representative Benson Votes with Legislature to Pass Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

BOSTON – Representative Benson joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature last week to pass landmark criminal justice reform legislation. An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform (S.2371) will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.

The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying An Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.

“This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I wholeheartedly thank Chairwoman Cronin for her insight and diligence, Leader Mariano, Chairman Sanchez, and Representative Harrington.”

“I was proud to vote for this legislation that touches every facet of our criminal justice system. These reforms will make our system fairer and more equitable, and allow those who committed crimes as youths or young adults the opportunity for a second chance,” said Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg).

For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.

The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. It creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence.

Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies:

  • Reduces the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor.
  • Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.
  • Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications.
  • Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,200. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.

Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his consideration.