Representative Benson’s Office Update: September 2017

Around the District

Speaking at a forum on single-payer health care in Ayer with Senator Eldridge and Jackie Wolf of Mass-Care.

I attended several events around the 37th Middlesex District in September, including a forum on single-payer health care in Ayer hosted by the Ayer, Lunenburg, and Shirley Democratic Town Committees. Senator Eldridge and I discussed our single-payer legislation, and Jackie Wolf of Mass-Care talked about the movement for single-payer in the state. I’ve spoken at several of these forums in the district, and it’s great to see so much enthusiasm for improving our health care system.

Later that month, I appeared before the Harvard Board of Selectmen to provide an update about legislative and budget items, including the home rule petitions Harvard has pending. I had a productive discussion with the selectmen about the petitions and other legislation.

Later in the week, I went to the Massachusetts Municipal Association legislative breakfast, where I discussed my carbon pricing legislation and my support for increased infrastructure investments. On September 28, I was in Acton celebrating the groundbreaking of the new Insulet manufacturing facility, which will support hundreds of new jobs. The next day, I attended the Minuteman High School legislative breakfast. I and other area legislators received an update from administration, faculty, and students about the construction of the new high school building.

At the State House
Last month, I was sworn in as a member of the board of directors of the nonpartisan nonprofit Women in Government. I have served as a Massachusetts state director for the organization since 2015, and I am honored to be joining the board of directors to help further their mission of supporting women in public office.


 

On September 26, I participated in a legislative briefing on maternal health organized by the Caucus of Women Legislators and the March of Dimes. We learned about legislation related to aiding preterm infants and infants born with exposure to substance abuse

I also attended the 31st annual Massachusetts Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony at the State House. We honored law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and commemorated eight officers who were added to the permanent memorial in Ashburton Park this year.

Legislative Update
At a press conference last month, Attorney General Maura Healey announced her support for legislation I filed to better protect consumers from data breaches like the recent Equifax hack. This legislation was also filed by Senator Barbara L’Italien, and is currently pending before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. The day after the press conference, I joined the Attorney General and Senator L’Italien in testifying in favor of the bill at its September 26th hearing.

Testifying in favor of H.134 with Attorney General Maura Healey

An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports was originally filed in January, and in light of the Equifax hack, I have worked in conjunction with Senator L’Italien and the Attorney General’s office to draft and propose updated language. The new language strengthens the bill by eliminating fees, establishing a procedure for placing credit freezes, mandating encryption of personal information in credit reports, and requiring that companies obtain consent before accessing or using consumer credit reports and credit scores.

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure is now examining the legislation and the proposed new language.

Budget Update
In September, the House of Representatives voted to restore $320 million in spending vetoed by Governor Baker from the FY2018 budget. I voted with my colleagues in the House to restore funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, housing for homeless youth, the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program, and many other vital accounts.

Looking Ahead
In October, the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight will hold several hearings. I will also be touring businesses in the district, meeting with local nonprofits, and attending a Shirley Board of Selectmen meeting.

I always enjoy hearing from constituents, and I welcome you to reach out to me via email or phone at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or (617) 722-2140.

Sincerely,

 

 

Jennifer Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District

Following Equifax Hack, AG and Legislators Announce Legislation to Protect Mass. Consumers

BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey announced on Monday her support for legislation filed by Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) that will better protect consumers from data breaches like the recent hack of Equifax data.

The legislation, An Act Removing Fees for Security Freezes and Disclosures of Consumer Credit Reports (S.130/H.134), will help consumers by eliminating fees and establishing a procedure for placing credit freezes, and mandating encryption of personal information in credit reports, as well as requiring that companies obtain consent before accessing or using consumer credit reports and credit scores.

The bill – originally filed in January, with additional language introduced today at the State House is sponsored by Senator Barbara L’Italien and State Representative Jennifer Benson. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office assisted in drafting the updated language to provide additional protections for consumers affected by a breach.

 “For too long, protecting consumers has been an afterthought for Equifax and other credit reporting agencies,” said the Attorney General. “This bill will give Massachusetts residents control over their personal data and help fix a system that needed reform long before the Equifax breach. I am proud to join with Senator L’Italien and Representative Benson as Massachusetts leads the charge for our country’s consumers.”

AG Healey will testify before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure tomorrow in support of the bill and ask the Committee to incorporate the additional consumer protections proposed today.

“I welcome the Attorney General’s support of this important legislation,” said Representative Benson, Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. “I filed this bill to protect victims of identity theft, and in collaboration with the Attorney General and Chairwoman L’Italien, we’ve made the language even stronger to provide further consumer protections.”

“I am proud to stand today in collaboration with the Attorney General and Rep. Jen Benson to discuss enhanced consumer protections for all residents of our Commonwealth,” said Senator L’Italien. “With the Equifax breach we learned how easy it is for our personal information to be compromised, and the urgency of ensuring additional protection for consumers and our credit and financial information.”

“Equifax’s massive security breach exposed that not only did they throw away the lock and lose the key to safeguarding our information, but when we asked them to secure it, with a credit freeze, they wanted to charge us and make a profit off of their extreme negligence,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director with MASSPIRG. “We have a terrific opportunity and obligation to pass a strong reform bill, and we should do it now.”

The updated legislation helps consumers in Massachusetts in a number of ways:

  1. Consent: Any company seeking to obtain or use a consumer’s credit report or credit score will need the written consent of the consumer and must disclose the reason for seeking access to the information.
  2. Credit Freeze: The bill would allow consumers to place and lift a credit freeze on their files at any time, for free. Unlike credit monitoring (which alerts you after potential identity theft has already occurred), a credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. The new legislation will require the credit reporting agencies to put in place a simple, one-stop shop for freezing and unfreezing your credit reports.
  3. Credit reports: The bill will require each credit reporting agency to provide extra access to free credit reports to consumers impacted by a breach. Under federal law, consumers only get access to one free credit report per year, but under the new legislation, affected consumers will be entitled to no less than three free copies from each agency after a data breach.
  4. Credit monitoring: If the breach occurs at a consumer reporting agency – like Equifax – the bill requires it to provide five years of free credit monitoring to affected consumers.
  5. Encryption: The bill will require that all agencies encrypt personal information contained in consumer credit reports to enhance the security, confidentiality and integrity of personal information.

According to Equifax, the breach reported earlier this month potentially compromised the personal information of 143 million consumers nationwide, including nearly three million Massachusetts consumers. Following the breach, AG Healey launched an immediate investigation and filed a lawsuit last week against Equifax alleging that it did not maintain the appropriate safeguards to protect consumer data in violation of Massachusetts consumer protection and data privacy laws and regulations. The AG’s Office also issued guidance for consumers in the wake of the data breach.

Equifax is a consumer reporting agency that businesses rely on to make decisions about the credit worthiness of consumers, therefore affecting whether consumers can buy a house, acquire a loan, lease a vehicle, or even get a job. Currently, consumers have little to no control over the information about them that Equifax acquires.

With Overrides, House Restores Funding for Education, Safety, & Health Care

BOSTON – Representative Jennifer Benson and her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives recently took action to restore vital funding that was vetoed by Governor Baker. These veto overrides will enhance support for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents, including those with dependent children, and bolster education initiatives.

The House voted to restore about $220 million in funding for MassHealth, including $209 million for caseloads, as well as funding for nursing home supplemental rates.

“I was proud to vote to restore funding to important programs like the Massachusetts Cultural Council, senior care, and pediatric palliative care,” said Representative Benson. “Even with lower than expected revenue numbers, we still have a responsibility to provide economic development tools to our towns, and to provide assistance to the most vulnerable populations in the state.”

The House took steps to support the disabled, elderly, and children by overriding the Governor’s vetoes and restoring funding for:

  • Unaccompanied homeless youth
  • Employment training for young adults with disabilities
  • Down Syndrome clinics
  • Aging with development disabilities programming

The House overrode the Governor’s veto of $1.25 million for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Services. The House also voted to restore funding for numerous other education programs and institutions including:

  • Public higher education
  • Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Program
  • Computer science education
  • Programs for English language learners in Gateway Cities

Rep. Benson Joins Women In Government Board of Directors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, Women In Government (WIG) announced the appointment of Massachusetts State Representative Jennifer Benson to the Board of Directors as an At Large Member for the Eastern Region. Women in Government is the nation’s leading nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of women state legislators across the country.

Representative Benson began her involvement with the organization in 2013 and became a State Director in 2015. Representative Benson will bring close to a decade of legislative know-how to the Member At Large position.

“I am honored to be joining the Board of Directors of Women In Government,” said Representative Benson. “I look forward to working with the Board to support and inspire women in public office to craft effective policy and advocate for bold solutions.”

Elected in 2008, Representative Benson is serving in her fifth term in the Massachusetts Legislature. Before being elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, she served five years on the Lunenburg School Committee. Representative Benson is the chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

“For nearly thirty years, Women in Government has provided leadership opportunities, networking, expert forums, and educational resources to address and resolve complex public policy issues,” said Colorado State Senator Nancy Todd, Chair of the WIG Board. “Representative Benson brings valuable  experience and perspectives to this important work.”

Representative Benson was sworn in during a conference call of the Board of Directors on Wednesday.

Women In Government Foundation, Inc., headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of women state legislators that provides leadership opportunities, networking, expert forums, and educational resources to address and resolve complex public policy issues to all 1,808 women state legislators. Learn more at www.womeningovernment.org.

Representative Benson’s Office Update: July and August 2017

Around the District

On July 10, I visited Little Leaf Farms in Devens with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. I met with the company’s founders and employees, and toured their massive hydroponic farming facility that captures rainwater to grow produce without the use of soil. It was great to see a small business in the district thriving and utilizing sustainable production practices.

Later that day, I spoke before the Acton Board of Selectmen in support of Indivisible Acton, Green Acton, Mothers Out Front, and other organizations that were urging the town to pledge support for the Paris Climate Accord. The Board voted to support the Accord and restated the town’s commitment to sustainability and protecting the environment.

In August, I attended the signing of a Community Compact between the Town of Harvard and the Baker-Polito Administration. The Lieutenant Governor and selectmen signed the compact, which commits Harvard to developing a capital needs assessment and an information technology strategy, and implementing traffic engineering improvements.

At the State House

I hosted a briefing in July with State Representatives Stephen Kulik and Peter Kocot on the topic of carbon pricing. A full room of Representatives and staffers came to learn more about the topic from Climate XChange’s Marc Breslow. I have been encouraged by the strong level of interest in my carbon pricing bill (H.1726), and I am looking forward to building on the momentum of the briefing.

Legislative Update

The Legislature recently passed a bill establishing consumer access to recreational marijuana with robust public safety and regulatory measures. The bill maintains the personal use provisions approved by the 2016 ballot initiative while instituting a 10.75% state excise tax, a 3% local option excise tax, and an optional 3% impact fee on top of the state’s 6.25% sales tax. Adults 21 and older can use marijuana, and possess up to one ounce in public and ten ounces at home. They may have six plants per person but no more than 12 plants per residence.

On July 27, Governor Baker signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into law. The law guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers, and makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy. I was proud to vote for the bill to protect pregnant women and new mothers from discrimination in the workplace.

The signing ceremony for the resolution condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

In reaction to the violence at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, I drafted a resolution denouncing white nationalists and neo-Nazis, and condemning the hatred, bigotry and violence these groups espouse. The resolution also urges law enforcement agencies to condemn white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideology, vigorously pursue justice in response to hate-fueled violence, and work to ensure the protection of marginalized and targeted communities. The resolution was signed by the Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and Governor on August 17 at a ceremony at the State House.

Committee Update

Chairing my first State Administration hearing.

After more than 2 years of serving as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, in July, I was named the House Chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. The Committee considers matters regarding public contracts, public construction, state regulations, state agencies, and open meeting laws. I co-chaired my first hearing of the new Committee with the Senate Chair, Walter Timilty, and I am looking forward to working with him and the House and Senate committee members.

Looking Ahead

In September, I will continue to review the more than 200 bills in the new Committee as I begin planning for hearings. I will also be going to several events in the district, including a forum on single-player health care legislation on September 12 in Ayer.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to comment on a particular piece of legislation, you can reach me at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov, or at my new office phone number, (617) 722-2140.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Benson
State Representative
37th Middlesex District