BOSTON -- As we are preparing for the 2014 session, I thought I would take a moment to review recent session accomplishments.

Over this past session, the Legislature was able to once again come together to pass effective pieces of legislation that will have long-lasting impacts on citizens of the commonwealth. I joined my colleges in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing legislation pertaining to economic development, transportation, education, welfare, compounding pharmacies and election laws.

Two major finance bills

This session the House passed two major finance bills, the fiscal 2014 budget and the transportation finance bill, both of which are designed to stimulate economic growth. The fiscal 2014 budget, a $34 billion plan, allocates essential funds that advance the growth of the local economy and support the commonwealth's essential services and programs, including local aid, education, housing and health and human services.

In addition to funding essential services, the budget prioritizes education-related items, including increased Chapter 70 funds. It takes decisive action to bolster funding for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, including a $478.9 million allocation for UMass that will prevent tuition and fee increases for the upcoming school year.

This year's budget also provided new funding and resources for various programs enacted through the 2012 economic development legislation, including the Manufacturing Futures Program and the Mass Works Infrastructure Program, to foster job creation for employees of all skill levels across numerous industries.

The transportation finance bill, passed in August, is designed to solve long-standing financial problems within the state's transportation system through continued reforms and a future, stable funding source without placing too great a burden on working families. The bill continues on the promise of the 2009 transportation reform law by enhancing efficiency and accountability, providing revenue to initiate economic growth and supporting necessary infrastructure jobs.

Compounding pharmacies

Following the 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated drugs, Massachusetts became the first state to pass comprehensive legislation relative to compounding pharmacies. In October, the House unanimously voted on a bill that will help the commonwealth better regulate the industry. This legislation addresses a previous lack of consistent standards, at both a state and federal level, governing the operations of specialty pharmacies engaged in sterile compounding by improving oversight, licensing and quality standards.

Assisting veterans

This fall the House passed two bills related to the military and veterans. Veterans affairs are a major priority for the House, and because of this Massachusetts is consistently ranked among the top state for veterans. The 2013 VALOR Act builds on existing legislation to provide increased property tax relief and enhance employment, educational and health-care support services. The House also passed a military bond bill which funds projects at military installations around the state.

Assisting families

Throughout the year the House renewed its dedication to the commonwealth's citizens and municipalities by providing for existing needs while preparing for the future through provisions like increased local aid and welfare reform. The Economic Independence Act enhances the efficacy of the state's welfare system through new initiatives and reforms, including the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program, which provides numerous resources designed to help recipients achieve financial independence. The bill also builds on the House's unyielding commitment to safeguarding the integrity of Massachusetts' welfare system through new reform measures, including an expanded scope of prohibited actions to include foreign transmittal agencies, and increased resources for the Department of Transitional Assistance. These measures follow electronic benefit card reforms made in the fiscal 2013 budget and two subsequent supplementary budgets, passed in July and October, respectively. 

In the midst of the federal government shutdown, the October finance legislation allocated additional and immediate funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an indication of Massachusetts' government's ongoing commitment to working together.

Aware of the difficult circumstance some families face, the House passed legislation and enacted numerous provisions to help residents secure safe and stable housing, including a $1.4 housing bond bill, which modernizes public housing and allows for home modification for elderly or disabled homeowners.

Legislative accomplishments for the 37th Middlesex District

Over this past session, there were a variety of legislative accomplishments that have a direct effect on the district. Over the past 12 months, each of these bills have been signed by Gov. Patrick;

* H.3356: An act establishing a three-member Board of Selectmen in the town of Ayer

* H.3498: An act relative to the elderly and disabled taxation aid committee in the town of Harvard

* H.3499: An sct relative to police detail work in the town of Harvard

* H.3494: An act relative to the sale of alcoholic beverages in the town of Harvard

Other legislative accomplishments

Other session accomplishments include approval of election legislation, increasing the maximum penalty for corporate manslaughter, establishing Individualized Education Plans (IEP) for students with disabilities, creation of another sales tax holiday in August, and expanded efforts to require national background checks of teachers, daycare providers, and people living or working on facility premises. These various pieces of legislation will have tremendous impacts on our communities, from boosting local businesses, to ensuring our children are in safe environments during the day, and providing resources for local officials and residents.

I look forward to continuing to pass such influential pieces of legislation in the 2014 session. As we move forward into the New Year, I will focus on legislation pertaining to women's health; special-education funding; children, families and persons with disabilities; and the elderly.

Around the district

Throughout the month of December, I was able to attend various events around the district. In the beginning of December, I attended tree-lighting ceremonies and holiday parties. Mid-December I was thankful to participate in the Wreaths Across America Ceremony and wreath-laying at Fort Devens. I was also able to join Representative Hogan to attend the Emergency Services Appreciation Day to present certificates of appreciation to those who dedicate their lives to keeping our communities safe and providing emergency care.

I hope everyone has a safe, healthy and joyous New Year.

As always, please contact my office should you wish to express an opinion, or request assistance with an issue. You can contact me by phone at 617-722-2430 or email at jennifer.benson@mahouse.gov.