By State Rep. Jen Benson

Around the District

In October and November, my staff and I attended various events across the district and in surrounding communities. We attended legislative breakfasts hosted by the Mass. Municipal Association (MMA), Minutemen Regional High School and Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC). Also in October, I was welcomed by Commander Steven Egan and his team, with Sen. Jamie Eldridge, to tour Fort Devens. The tour was excellent and it was fascinating to see various aspects of the base. I was also able to attend many celebratory events in the district, such as celebrating Sharon Pecoraro's successful first year of business with the Spruce St. Café, the Steele Farm Conservation and Historic Preservation celebration in Boxborough, and the grand-opening of Honey Farms' newest location in Lunenburg.

In mid-November, I joined State Treasurer and Chairman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Steve Grossman, Superintendent Loxi Jo Calmes, Principal Brian Spadafino and many others on a tour of Lunenburg High School to see the conditions of the 60-year-old building. The town is in the process of working with MSBA to construct a new Lunenburg middle/high school. At the end of November, I joined Rep. Sheila Harrington to visit Winchendon Veterans Cemetery to see the Battle of the Bulge Memorial. I learned a great deal of the tragic story of the Wereth 11.

I want to send my best wishes to President Daniel Asquino and the rest of the MWCC faculty, staff and students on their 50th anniversary!

Events

My staff was able to attend various events these past few months, as well. In October, both of my aides, Cat and Meagan, joined the Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Stacey Monahan at the agency's Dudley Square Office for a tour and opportunity to see the application and renewal process of DTA services. Later in the month, Meagan was able to attend the semi-annual Transportation Coordination Teams Meeting in Maynard. This was a success as she was able to learn a lot about the regional transportation team accomplishments, and what I could do to help them in achieving their goals. Meagan was also able to join Sen. Jen Flanagan, and Rep. Jon Zlotnik's staff in attending an educational luncheon hosted by the Service Coordinators of the North Central Area Office.

Statehouse Events and Meetings

On the Hill, my staff and I were also able to meet with many constituents and organizations regarding various pieces of legislation. We discussed an assortment of topics from biosimilars, retiree health-care benefits, women's health, children's health and recycling.

I had the opportunity to attend the MSBA's event to celebrate reaching $10 billion awarded to cities and towns for school projects since its inception in 2004. It was great to listen to Grossman talk about the success of the MSBA in partnering with communities to build schools for our children.

As you know, I co-chair the MA After School and Out-of-School Council with Sen. McGee. Throughout the past two months, my staff and I have continued to work very closely alongside McGee, his staff and MAPS to plan for upcoming council meetings and work on recommendations from the council. In October, we had a very successful meeting to discuss the impact of after-school and out-of-school programs.

Health-Care Financing

I joined Chairman Steve Walsh, Rep. Hecht, Rep. Dykema and many more on a tour of the Athenahealth facility in Watertown. It was a great opportunity to get out in the field and talk about health care with members of the industry. I also attended the MassMedical Society annual State of the State's Health Care Leadership Forum.

As Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance, in October, I made the breast cancer early detection bill a priority because I know the importance of the issue, and the impact this bill could have on women of the commonwealth. Rep. Provost, Sen. Jehlen, many co-sponsors and constituents have been tremendous advocates in leading this bill. 

The Joint Committee on Public Service held two public hearings in October to discuss Disability Retirement and Presumption Law bills, and a bill from the governor recommending legislation relative to providing retiree health-care benefits reform.

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy held two public hearings in October and November to discuss municipal lighting bills, among others.

Legislative Update

In the beginning of October, the House held a formal session to consider H.3600 "An Act Relative to Pharmacy Practice in the Commonwealth." This compounding pharmacy bill modernizes pharmacy oversight while enhancing patient access to critical medications. The House passed this legislation; the bill will increase the oversight of compounding pharmacies, improve quality and safety standards in the commonwealth and establish rigorous transparency and accountability practices for compounding pharmacies across the state. The unanimous vote distinguishes Massachusetts as the first state to pass comprehensive legislation relative to compounding pharmacies.

Additionally, in October, H.524 "An Act Raising the School Dropout Age," went before the Joint Committee on Education and I was able to testify in favor of the bill, as well. The dropout problem is multidimensional, and we know that students drop out of school for a variety of reasons. However, we also know that the overwhelming majority of dropouts could have been prevented with laws and policies designed to better support students and identify problems early. This bill would raise the mandatory school attendance age to 18, in phases, over the next four years. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia require compulsory attendance until age 18, and another 11 states require attendance until age 17. As a national leader in education, Massachusetts must make this commitment to our young adults. However, raising the dropout age without providing additional supports and interventions rings hollow. Therefore, this bill also creates a three-year competitive grant pilot program in districts with annual dropout rates higher than the state average.

I ended the month by joining my colleagues in passing the 2013 VALOR Act, which builds on existing legislation to expand opportunities and services for military personnel, veterans and their families. The legislation provides increased property tax relief and enhances employment, educational and health-care support services. It also establishes a home modification program for veterans to help individuals stay in their homes and function independently.

In November, I joined my colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass comprehensive legislation that enhances the efficacy of the state's welfare system through new initiatives and reforms. The $20 million bill dedicates $11 million to create the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program, which provides numerous resources including job training, education and employment-matching programs to help welfare recipients achieve financial independence. The program requires applicants to search for employment before they receive cash assistance, replacing current regulations in which recipients have 60 days to find a job, but allows for temporary benefits while awaiting placement.

The month of November concluded with one of my bills, H.579 "An Act to Establish Election Day Registration," going before the Joint Committee on Election Laws. I was able to testify in favor of my bill before House and Senate committee members. I believe this bill is a significant step in the right direction towards modernizing election laws and regulations. I co-sponsored a lot of the underlying legislation that is a part of this larger election-reform bill. Although a lot of work still needs to be done, I am hopeful this bill will increase civic engagement and I look forward to seeing higher voter participation as a result of the online registration, and early voting initiatives.

I encourage all of you to continue expressing concerns and, as always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if you feel I can be of assistance with an individual issue. Call 617-722-2430 or send me an email at Jennifer.Benson@ mahouse.gov.

Wishing everyone safe and happy holidays!