– State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) voted Wednesday to
make up to $8 million in funding available to reproductive health and family
planning clinics in Massachusetts. The move to support the dozens of clinics
across the state comes after the Trump Administration issued a new regulation
that would effectively cut all federal funding for any reproductive health
clinic that also provides abortion services.
House of Representatives passed the supplemental funding bill, H.3638, by a
140-14 margin. In addition to appropriating up to $8 million to support Title X
health clinics through June of 2020, the bill also requires the Secretary of
the Executive Office for Administration and Finance to issue quarterly reports
on expenditures to health centers receiving the funding.
“75,000 people in Massachusetts depend on health centers that receive Title X funds for reproductive care, preventive screening, and treatment. These are mostly women, mostly low-income, and many of them live in rural areas with limited access to health care,” said Representative Benson, who serves as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “I’m proud that the House has stepped in to make up the funding deficit that will be caused by this irresponsible and unnecessary policy decision at the federal level. I’m grateful to Speaker DeLeo and Ways and Means Chairman Michlewitz for their leadership and commitment to preserving Title X health centers.”
federal Title X Family Planning Program was established in 1970, and provides
grants to health clinics to fund contraception, cancer screening, sexually
transmitted disease testing, and other services for mostly low-income people.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, at the
direction of the Trump Administration, issued new regulations that would
prohibit Title X from giving funding to providers who offer or refer patients
to abortion services. The regulation put thousands of health care centers
across the United States in danger of closing, including 93 in Massachusetts.
BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson
(D-Lunenburg) voted Wednesday to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors
and remove the welfare cap imposed on benefits for children, in two separate
bills passed by the House of Representatives.
The House passed H.140, An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors by a 147-8 margin. The bill prohibits licensed therapists from attempting to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The abusive practice has been shown to be harmful to LGBTQ children, causing higher rates of depression and suicide. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have already banned conversion therapy.
”I was proud to vote in favor of this legislation to protect children in Massachusetts,” said Representative Benson. “This bill will ensure that children in the Commonwealth do not suffer through the abusive, unscientific methods commonly used in conversion therapy.”
H.140 was referred to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, which is Chaired in the House by Representative Benson. The Committee recommended the bill ought to pass before referring it to House Ways and Means.
The House subsequently passed H.3594, An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids, by 155-1. This legislation would eliminate a cap placed on welfare benefits adopted in 1995 that prevents families from receiving additional assistance for children born while the family is already receiving assistance.
“Getting rid of the benefit cap is the right thing to do,” said Representative Benson. “There are more than 8,000 children in low-income families currently being denied benefits that they are otherwise eligible for.”
Of the 24 states
that imposed family benefit caps in the 1990s, eight have reversed course and
eliminated them. The Legislature passed a bill twice last session to eliminate
the cap, but Governor Baker vetoed the legislation.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I
attended the annual MLK Breakfast at Congregation Beth Elohim. Every year, this
is a great event that brings the community together to celebrate the legacy of
the Civil Rights leader. This year’s speaker was Roland Gibson, an educator and
former METCO director who helped desegregate schools in Weston, Massachusetts
in the 1980s. He spoke movingly on race in the United States and his life as an
educator and activist.
Acton Piper Lane Site Visit
Also in Acton, I visited the site of a
proposed 40B housing development on Piper Line, at the request of the South
Acton Neighborhood Association (SANA). SANA opposes the project for many
reasons; among them are concerns about traffic safety, density, and proximity
to the Great Hill Recreation Area. After visiting the site and hearing SANA’s
concerns, I sent a letter to MassHousing asking them to deny the developer’s
application to proceed with the project.
Boxborough Solar Array
On February 15, I was in Boxborough with
Senator Jamie Eldridge and Boxborough town officials for a ribbon-cutting at
the new 5MW solar array constructed through a partnership with a municipal
electric department. The array will provide clean, renewable energy to more
than 2,000 customers in Boxborough and Littleton. As a longtime proponent of
renewable energy, I continue to be impressed by the innovative ways the towns
in my district have embraced solar energy and community solar projects.
Ayer Women’s March
I was honored to be asked to speak,
along with my daughter, Maya, at the second Ayer Women’s March on January 19. It
was encouraging to be among so many people celebrating equality, diversity, and
progress. The organizers of the event did a great job of getting the word out,
and the Ayer Police made sure we were kept safe and redirected traffic during
the rally at the Town Hall.
In January, I attended the North Central
Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s annual briefing, where the Chamber discussed
their policy and budget priorities with the legislative delegation. We share a
commitment to workforce development, including supporting programs that promote
careers in advanced manufacturing.
I also spoke at the Leominster-area Fund
Our Future forum, and expressed my support for the PROMISE Act, filed in the
Legislature this session, to reform the Chapter 70 public education funding
formula. A few weeks later, I wrote a letter that was published in the
Lunenburg Ledger reaffirming my support for the PROMISE Act.
In January, Cathy Fochtman of Acton
retired after more than 18 years at the Acton Recreation Department, including 12
years as the Department’s Director. At her retirement party, Senator Eldridge,
Representative Tami L. Gouveia, and I presented
Cathy with a citation from the House of Representatives honoring her
years of public service. Congratulations Cathy, and enjoy retirement!
At the State
The 191st Legislative Session
began on January 2. Throughout the past two months, I’ve been busy drafting and
filing legislation, meeting with colleagues to discuss policy, and settling
into my new role as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care
I filed 17 pieces of legislation this
session, including six health care and five energy bills.
One of my bills would direct state agencies to collaborate on the
creation of a Diabetes Action Plan to better understand the impact of diabetes
in the Commonwealth. This information would then be used to develop public
health strategies to address the epidemic. Another of my health care bills
would create guidelines to allow patients faster and easier access to
prescribed medications their insurers deem too expensive.
My carbon pricing bill garnered more
than 100 cosponsors, including more than half the House of
Representatives, to become the most supported climate change bill in the House
this session. I continue to travel around the Commonwealth to talk about my
bill, and I recently participated in panel discussions on carbon pricing in
Lexington and Boston.
Another bill I filed would give cities
and towns the option to use ranked choice voting (RCV) in local elections. In
RCV, voters rank as many choices as there are candidates. If their first choice
can’t win, their vote counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a
candidate clears 50%. RCV has been implemented state-wide in Maine, and used in
dozens of jurisdictions across the country.
To protect students defrauded by
for-profit schools, I refiled my bill establishing a Student Tuition Recovery
Fund. The Fund would let students recover tuition and other costs if a
for-profit school they’re attending closes, fails to provide the services promised,
or violates state law.
You can view summaries of all the bills I filed this session on my website, JenBenson.org. After receiving hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters from constituents about their legislative priorities for the session, I signed on to cosponsor more than 300 bills.
Health Care Financing Committee Update
Speaker DeLeo announced his leadership
team and committee assignments for the session on February 14, and I was
be named the Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
Health care has always been one of the policy areas I am most interested in and
passionate about. As health care costs rise, and takes up a larger portion of
the state budget every year, I’m looking forward to meeting the challenge of
identifying policies to address costs and improve outcomes.
The Committee on Health Care Financing
considers all matters concerning the direct funding of health care policy and
programs, including Medicaid, MassHealth, and other public health assistance
matters. So far, more than 150 bills have been referred to the Committee, and
that number will continue to grow. My staff and I have started reading through
the bills, and we will begin the process of planning and scheduling hearings
for them in the coming weeks.
Circuit Breaker Briefing
As I have done for the past few years, I
co-hosted the annual budget briefing on the Special Education Circuit Breaker line
item. The Circuit Breaker program reimburses school districts for a part of the
cost of educating students with severe special needs. I was glad that so many
legislators and staffers came to hear from education policy experts, as well as
students and parents, about the importance of fully funding the Circuit Breaker
Signing of the Security Breach Bill
On February 26, Governor Baker held a
ceremonial signing for the security breach bill I filed last session that gives
consumers more control over their credit information and the ability to freeze
their credit free of charge. The signing ceremony was the culmination of over
two years of work with Attorney General Maura Healey, Representative Tackey
Chan, and former Senator Barbara L’Italien. It was great to have advocates from
AARP and MassPIRG in the room to celebrate the new new protections for
Meeting About Parking at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station
I attended a meeting with officials from
the Town of Ayer, MassDOT, and the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority, as
well as Senator Eldridge and Rep. Sheila Harrington, to discuss the ongoing
issue of how to move forward on the planned parking garage and restroom
facility at the Ayer Commuter Rail Station.
The project has been in the works for
over 20 years, and has had to overcome many hurdles, including funding, design,
and the acquisition of the property. Progress is continuing, albeit slowly, and
the legislative delegation for Ayer is continuing to offer help in whatever
ways we can.
In March, I’ll be meeting with school committees
and select boards in the district to discuss education funding in the FY2020
budget and the PROMISE Act. I’ll also be attending events to discuss my energy
legislation, including a conference at Tufts University on carbon pricing.
If you wish to discuss legislation, or
need help with a state government issue, you can reach my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov
or at our new office’s phone number, 617-722-2430.
BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) has been named the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
“I’m honored that Speaker DeLeo has named me to serve as the House Chair of this important Committee,” said Representative Benson. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with my Senate counterpart, Chairwoman Cindy Friedman, and the Committee members. We have a big job ahead of us and we’ll be working to address the high cost of health care and craft policy solutions that will benefit all residents of the Commonwealth.”
The Joint Committee on Health Care Financing considers all matters concerning the direct funding of health care policy and programs, including Medicaid, MassHealth, and other public health assistance matters. Health care makes up approximately 43% of the Commonwealth’s annual budget, and has been the fastest growing budget category in the past decade.
Representative Benson has previously served as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, and the acting House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008.
BOSTON — Last month, State Representative Jennifer Benson filed 17 bills in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Building on her record as a champion for energy issues, five of her bills address energy and environmental policy in the Commonwealth, including her ambition carbon pricing bill, which has garnered more than 100 cosponsors.
There is worldwide agreement among scientists and policymakers that
the Earth is warming at an unsustainable rate due to human activity. In
2008, Massachusetts passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) and
pledged to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This bill puts a price
on carbon emissions to incentivize a move toward renewable energy and
help us meet or exceed the GWSA emissions target. 70% of the collected
price is rebated to consumers and businesses, and 30% is dedicated to a
Green Infrastructure Fund for local investments in renewable energy
projects that will further reduce emissions and stimulate the economy.
There are built in protections for low and middle income households,
those who live in rural areas, and export-driven manufacturers.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has approved profit
margins for electricity utilities that are significantly higher than our
neighboring states. The Department has also approved automatic annual
rate increases for Eversource 1.5% higher than the rate of inflation.
This bill caps the profit margins of utilities at the average of our
neighboring states (currently ≈9.2%), which will save ratepayers money
and incentivize utilities to invest in renewable energy.
This bill requires utility companies to offer on-peak/off-peak rate
structures so ratepayers can save money by changing their energy
consumption habits. This also incentivizes the use of electric cars,
which typically charge during off-peak hours, as well as the usage of
energy storage and the purchase of smart appliances.
The energy market in Massachusetts is undergoing a significant
transformation as distributed generation upends the historical model of
centralized generation. This bill requires utilities to update the
electrical grid for the 21st century and implement technologies that
support the decentralization of generation, thereby allowing for more
interconnection of renewables.
Current law required 50% of all vehicles in the state fleet to be
hybrids or use alternative fuel by 2018. This requirement was not met.
This bill sets escalating, achievable yearly benchmarks, starting with
15% of vehicles in FY2020, with an end goal of 50% set in FY2026.
In Massachusetts, more than 700,000 people have diabetes. This bill
directs state agencies under the Executive Office of Health and Human
Services to collaborate on the creation of a Diabetes Action Plan to
better identify and understand the impact of diabetes in the state. This
information will be used to develop public health strategies to reduce
the frequency of diabetes among residents of the Commonwealth.
This bill requires health insurance companies and the Health
Connector to provide easily accessible and searchable information about
prescription costs in their plans so consumers can make informed
decisions when choosing health insurance.
Currently, health insurance companies can force a patient to try a
less expensive treatment before agreeing to pay for a prescribed
treatment. This practice is called “step therapy” or “fail first”. In
some cases, requiring a patient to follow a step therapy protocol may
have adverse and even dangerous consequences. This bill creates
guidelines to provide a way for doctors to override insurance companies
so a patient can more quickly access the medication originally
prescribed for them.
This bill amends the “Any Willing Provider” law to close the
“specialty medication loophole”, thereby allowing community pharmacies
to fill prescriptions for specialty medications such as biologics, as
long as the pharmacy can meet the standards required for handling and
administering the drugs. This will make it easier for patients to access
medications that treat many common autoimmune diseases and other
The Health Safety Net program allows acute care hospitals and health
centers to provide essential services to the uninsured and underinsured.
However, in recent years, the program has not been adequately funded.
This bill strengthens the program by reinforcing the requirement that
the Unemployment Assistance Trust Fund contribute at least $30 million
per year to the program, and splitting the responsibility for funding
shortfalls between hospitals and surcharge payers.
This bill gives cities and towns the option to use ranked choice
voting (RCV) in municipal elections. In RCV, voters rank as many choices
as there are candidates. If their first choice can’t win, their vote
counts toward their next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears the
50% mark. RCV has been implemented state-wide in Maine and has been
used in dozens of jurisdictions across the country.
This bill allows people who have moved, have errors in their
registration, or have never been registered to register and vote at
their polling place on Election Day, or at a designated satellite early
voting location before Election Day. This will increase voter turnout at
little to no cost to municipalities or the Commonwealth.
Currently, Massachusetts prohibits state universities from offering
doctorate level programs. In the current job market, there is an
increasing need for employees with higher levels of education, even for
entry level positions. This bill aligns our state universities with
those across the country by allowing them to offer clinical and
professional doctorate degree programs.
This bill creates a Student Tuition Recovery Fund to help
Massachusetts students who have been defrauded by for-profit schools.
The Fund lets eligible students recover tuition and other costs if a
for-profit school they’re attending closes, fails to provide the
services promised, or violates state law.
This bill creates a dedicated Motorcycle Safety Fund that will
provide $150 rebates to junior motorcycle operators who successfully
complete a safety course. The fund is financed by a $2 premium paid by
motorcyclists on their annual registrations.