I began May
as the guest speaker at Ayer Shirley Regional High School’s National Honor
Society Induction ceremony. I spoke about the four pillars of the NHS: scholarship,
service, leadership, and character, and how those qualities have helped me in
my career as a legislator. It was wonderful to be able to address the ASRHS NHS
inductees and their families, and I look forward to following their future accomplishments.
Also in Ayer,
I attended the groundbreaking for the Ayer Commuter Rail parking facility. The event
was 31 years in the making, and was made possible by leaders at the
Congressional, state, and local levels overcoming many financial, legal, and
logistical barriers. Starting in 2020, commuters and users of the Rail Trail
from Ayer and surrounding towns will have access to a brand new, two-level
facility and 180 parking spaces. While the facility is being built, limited
parking is available at Depot Square. More information is available on the Town
of Ayer’s website.
In Acton, I
toured First Connections with Senator Jamie Eldridge. First Connections is a
non-profit organization that supports new parents by teaching them the skills
they need to care for their children. I met with staff at the organization as
well as some of the parents who use their services, and we discussed challenges
facing working families and the need for more state support for parenting
I was invited
to attend the monthly meeting of the Acton chapter of Indivisible, where I
discussed my carbon pricing bill, H.2810. It was great to connect with constituents
who are passionate about combatting climate change and engaged in the
conversation about the policy options available to us.
Memorial Day in Boxborough & Lunenburg
To venerate our fallen soldiers on
Memorial Day, I participated in ceremonies in Boxborough and Lunenburg. In
Boxborough, I marched in the parade and presented Governor Baker’s Memorial Day
proclamation at North Cemetery. Later in the day, I attended the Lunenburg
ceremony at the town’s Veterans Memorial Park. In both towns, many people came
out in the beautiful weather to honor American soldiers who died in active
RJ Grey Junior High Visit
On May 16, I hosted
Mrs. Karamourtopoulos’ ESL class from RJ Grey Junior High in Acton at the State
House. The class went on a guided tour of the State House and watched an
informal session of the House of Representatives. Afterward, I spoke with the
class about my experience in government, and my colleague Rep. Antonio Cabral
discussed his immigration story. I’m glad the students are interested in
learning about state government.
In May, the
House of Representatives passed several important bills related to transportation
safety and infrastructure. On May 15, I voted with the House to pass
legislation fining drivers who are pulled over for operating a cellphone with
their hands while driving. The bill requires drivers to use hands-free
technology such as Bluetooth, and still allows for the use of GPS apps if the phone
is mounted to the dash.
Legislature also sent a bill funding local infrastructure maintenance to the
Governor’s desk. $200 million will be expended in FY20 to repair and update
municipal roads and bridges, including $2.17 million for the towns of the 37th
Middlesex District. Additionally, the House authorized $1.5 billion in spending
for large-scale transportation projects across the state over the next few
$18.5 million for the resurfacing of Route 2;
$10.6 million for the next phase of the Bruce
Freeman Rail Trail in Acton;
$3.7 million for improvements to the Piper Road and Taylor
Road intersection with Route 2 in Acton;
$1.6 million for the replacement of the Mulpus Brook
Bridge in Shirley; and
$980 thousand for stormwater improvements along Route
2A, including in Ayer.
Committee on Health Care Financing held two hearings in May. We collected
testimony on bills related to care management, support for special populations,
and health care delivery system oversight. The Committee has collected testimony
for hundreds of bills, and we still have a few more hearings scheduled.
June will be
a busy month at the State House, with Health Care Financing Committee hearings,
bills being taken up by the House, and a briefing I’m hosting on my carbon
having trouble with a state government issue or want to discuss a legislative matter,
you can contact my District office at 978-582-4146 ext. 4. You can contact my
State House office at 617-722-2430, or Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov.
BOSTON – State Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and lawmakers in
both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted during a joint Constitutional
Convention on Wednesday to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to add a four
percent surtax on household income above $1 million to fund public education and
“This is an important first step toward creating a new revenue stream that will fund critical infrastructure and further support public education,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I appreciate the work of Chair Cusack and Representative O’Day on this issue and look forward to advancing this measure further next session.”
The $1 million income level would be
adjusted annually to reflect inflation, ensuring that the four percent surtax
would continue to apply only to the highest earning households in the
Commonwealth. The Department of Revenue estimates that the amendment, commonly referred
to as the Fair Share Amendment, would generate $2.2 billion annually.
“I was proud to vote for the Fair Share Amendment at the Constitutional Convention,” said Representative Benson. “This new revenue will be used to finance critical reforms to public education funding, as well as improvements to our transportation infrastructure that will benefit communities in the 37th Middlesex District and across the Commonwealth.”
The amendment must pass in Constitutional Conventions in two consecutive legislative sessions. Wednesday marked the first passage, and the Legislature must approve it again in the 2021-2022 session in order for it to appear on the November 2022 statewide ballot for voter approval.
The bill (H.3854) will enable Massachusetts unions to charge non-members the reasonable costs associated with representing them in the grievance and bargaining process.
“This legislation – which builds on the House’s long-standing support of labor – sends a clear message that Massachusetts will work to secure protections for the working men and women of the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This bill represents a consensus position not realized from last session, and I thank Chair Brodeur for his hard work to move this issue forward.”
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision was a serious setback for organized labor at the federal level,” said Representative Benson. “By passing this legislation, we can ensure that in Massachusetts, unions will still have the resources they need to advocate on behalf of public sector workers, including our teachers, law enforcement, and municipal professionals.”
Additionally, the bill
Provide new hires with opportunities learn about benefits and
services available to them;
Protect worker organizations from outside attacks by empowering
them to set policies regarding dues and membership;
Ensure that employee organizations are able to provide
confidential legal advice and other communications by providing up to date
employee contact information; and
Enable employee organizations to conduct meetings in the
In their decision in Janus v. AFSCME, the
Supreme Court ruled that fees which public employee organizations charged
non-dues paying workers were unconstitutional, reversing decades of precedent
supported by previous court rulings.
BOSTON – On May 16, 2019, the Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) awarded State Representative Jennifer Benson and former Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Matthew Beaton their prestigious Clean Energy Champion awards.
“Representative Benson and Secretary Beaton are true champions for the clean energy economy,” said Peter Rothstein, President of NECEC. “Thanks to their leadership, Massachusetts has established itself as a global leader in clean energy, creating a vibrant sector of our economy while also saving money for energy consumers and addressing the challenges of climate change.”
In his tenure as Secretary, Matthew Beaton helped to lead the largest clean energy procurements of hydropower and offshore wind in state history. Under his leadership, Massachusetts led the country as the most energy efficient state, including nation-leading goals for energy savings, investing over $220 million in grid modernization technologies, and over $60 million in funding through the Green Communities program.
In March and April, I continued
meeting with town and school officials in the district to discuss their legislative
and budget priorities for the year. I met with the Harvard and Acton-Boxborough
School Committees and officials from the towns to discuss education funding
ahead of the FY20 budget debate. We discussed proposed legislation that would
reform Chapter 70 public school funding, regional transportation, special
education, and other education budget items. As a former member and chair of a
local school committee, I understand the financial difficulties facing these
districts, and I advocated for increasing education funding during the House
Choice Voting Town Hall
At an informational session
about ranked choice voting (RCV), I spoke about my legislation, H.635, which would
give cities and towns the option to implement RCV in their local elections. In
RCV, instead of voting for one candidate, voters rank candidates in order of
preference. If their first choice cannot win, their vote counts toward their
next choice, and so on, until a candidate clears 50%. RCV has been used in statewide
federal elections in Maine and in dozens municipal elections across the
country. I was happy to talk about the bill and answer questions from
and Boxborough Events
At the Acton-Boxborough
Cultural Council Grantee Reception, I celebrated the dozens of local-
organizations receiving grants totaling more than $12,000 to support their
programs and events. As a supporter of the arts and culture, it was great to be
able to congratulate the grantees and enjoy previews of some of their upcoming
plays, concerts, and art shows.
In the midst of the strike by
Stop & Shop workers across New England, I visited the picket line at the
store in Acton on Powder Mill Road to bring the workers donuts and offer
support. After ten days, a tentative agreement was reached between the United
Food and Commercial Workers union and The Stop & Shop Company. I was happy
to lend my support to the workers as they fought for fair wages and benefits.
Every year, the North Central
Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce bring the members of their Community
Leadership Institute to the State House. I spoke with the group of local
business leaders in the House Chamber about my path to serving in the
Legislature and the qualities I believe make an effective leader. I also talked
about my new role as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care
Financing and answered questions about policy.
March and April are always busy
months for advocacy groups in the State House. I met with students from
Ayer-Shirley Regional High School about the importance of ensuring that a
variety of Advanced Placement (AP) classes is available in all high schools. AP
classes are funded primarily by local school districts, but there is some
funding in the Massachusetts state budget specifically for AP classes. The FY20
House budget includes $2.9 million for AP math and science courses.
I also met with a group of
constituents from Harvard and Acton Unitarian Universalist congregations about
their legislative priorities, which include addressing climate change, making
it easier to vote, and reforming our criminal justice system.
On March 28, I spoke at the
American Cancer Society lobby day about my “fail first” legislation, which
would allow patients to get the medication prescribed to them more quickly when
insurance companies try to intercede and make patients try a less expensive
I was honored to be asked to
speak at the Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs advocacy day event in April. I
told a story about my grandfather, who grew up in Boston’s West End just a few
blocks from the State House. As a Lithuanian immigrant, he found a home and a
second family at the West End Boys Club, where he played basketball and learned
English. The Club was a huge part of his childhood and identity as a new
American. A photo of my grandfather and his West End Club basketball team hangs
in my State House office as a reminder of the importance of after school and
summer programs, and the great work of the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Protecting Children, Women’s Health Care Signed into Law
The Legislature recently passed, and the Governor signed into law, several important pieces of legislation to protect children, and ensure the availability of reproductive health care to women in Massachusetts.
On March 13, the House passed An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to
Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors. When it was signed
into law by the Governor a few weeks later, Massachusetts became the 15th
state to ban the practice of conversion therapy on children. Conversion therapy
seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a child through
abusive and often violent methods, and has been shown to cause severe mental
health issues. An Act to Lift the Cap on
Kids also became law after the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of
the bill, which makes more than 8,000 children in low-income families eligible
for state benefits.
The House passed supplemental
funding for women’s health clinics in the state to ensure that women will
continue to have access to reproductive health care and preventative cancer
screening. Since 1970, these clinics have received funding from the federal
Title X program but the Trump Administration has threatened to cut this
funding. This would force many of the 93 clinics across Massachusetts to close.
I was proud to join the Legislature in appropriating this funding, because
without it, 70,000 people would be in danger of losing access to their main
providers of reproductive care, contraception, STD testing, and cancer screening.
The Governor signed the funding bill into law on March 30.
After a four-day process, the House passed a $42.7 billion state budget that makes substantial investments in K-12 education and health care. With a nearly 5 percent increase in Chapter 70 funding over last year, and the full funding of the Special Education Circuit Breaker, the budget ensures that our schools will have the resources they need to provide high quality education.
I filed several amendments for
district-specific projects and programs that were included in the FY20 House
$100,000 for the Lunenburg Fire Department to purchase new safety equipment;
$165,000 for the removal and replacement of fuel storage tanks in Lunenburg;
$100,000 for the renovation of a building in Acton to serve as a community center; and
$150,000 for the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program at the Devens campus at Mount Wachusett Community College.
I also co-sponsored amendments
to fund district-specific items, and a few of those made it into the FY20 House
budget as well, including:
Prison Mitigation Funding to benefit cities and towns hosting state Department of Corrections facilities (Shirley);
$100,000 for elderly and commuter shuttles linking to the MBTA in Acton and Maynard; and
$27,000 for water quality monitoring for the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers (Acton).
The FY20 House budget includes
new policy language that would give the Executive Office of Health & Human
Services (EOHHS) and the Health Policy Commission (HPC) more tools to lower
drug costs in the MassHealth program. The amendment authorizes EOHHS to
negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers for supplemental rebates
to lower overall prescription drug spending within MassHealth. EOHHS may also hold
public hearings on the supplemental rebates and request documentation from
manufacturers explaining their reasoning behind the pricing of drugs. This
process would allow members of the public to weigh in by providing testimony.
If the HPC determines a manufacturer has priced a drug unreasonably or
excessively, and the manufacturer declines to agree to terms for a supplemental
rebate, EOHHS may subject the drug to actions such as requiring prior
authorization and prescription quantity limits. If at any point a drug
manufacturer fails to provide the HPC with requested information, they can be
fined up to $500,000.
Care Financing Committee
The Joint Committee on Health
Care Financing has begun holding legislative hearings on bills that were referred
to the Committee. Our first hearing was on pharmaceutical pricing and
transparency, and lasted several hours. My Co-Chair and I, Senator Cindy
Friedman, as well as the other members of the Committee, heard testimony from
dozens of advocates, medical professionals, and industry leaders. The Committee
is currently working on reviewing all the collected testimony and preparing for
In May, the Joint Committee on
Health Care Financing will be holding more legislative hearings, including on
single-payer health care legislation. For details about hearings and the bills
before the Committee, visit MALegislature.gov. I will also be hosting a
briefing at the State House on my Election Day Voter Registration bill, and
attending events in the district.
If you wish to discuss legislation, or you require assistance with a state government issue, you can reach my office at Jennifer.Benson@MAHouse.gov or at 617-722-2430.