Senator Ben Downing's Press Pass - November 2013

Governor delivers big news to Berkshire County

On Tuesday, November 12th Governor Deval Patrick toured Berkshire County, bringing with him good news as he made major announcements at every stop.  Throughout the day he  outlined a series of infrastructure, cultural and open space investments intended to expand growth and opportunity across the Berkshires. 
During an event at the Norman Rockwell Museum the Governor announced a three-fold increase --  from $5 million to $15 million -- in funding to further the development of cultural facilities throughout the state.  While visiting the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce he announced capital funding to finish improvements to the First Street Common in downtown Pittsfield and a MassWorks award for the next phase of the Pittsfield Downtown Streetscape Master Plan that will revitalize the downtown area.
"Arts, culture and creativity mean jobs in Berkshire County and this investment shows that yet again, Governor Patrick understands that," said Senator Ben Downing. 
Photo Credit:  Eric Haynes / Governor's Office

From the Desk of Senator Ben Downing:  A Bridge for All to the 21st Century

The following is from an OpEd by Senator Ben Downing published in the Berkshire Eagle on November 13, 2014:

A little over seven years ago, I kicked off my first campaign for the state Senate on the steps of Pittsfield City Hall. That day I said our task as a community was not only build a bridge to the 21st century, but to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to cross it. Since 2006 we have made significant progress on building that bridge.

Together, we have:

  • Invested $75 million to expand access to broadband Internet, with another $40 million on the way.
  • Invested billions in clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives, increasing our solar energy portfolio from 2MW of solar to more than 400MW, making Massachusetts first in the nation on energy efficiency and creating nearly 80,000 new jobs.
  • MCLA's Center for Science & Innovation is a reality, BCC's physical campus has seen significant upgrades, and the first steps have been taken to connect the Berkshires to New York City through passenger rail.

But we have not done enough to ensure everyone has the opportunity to cross that bridge. We haven't done enough to reduce poverty, create opportunity and minimize inequality. We need to do more and we need to do better. |more|

Legislative Wrap-up

On November 20th the Legislature recessed for the holiday break between the first and second calendar years of this legislative session. While both the House and Senate will continue to meet twice a week informally, formal sessions will not reconvene until after the New Year.  The final sessions of 2013 featured lively debate in the Senate on increasing the minimum wage, regulating secondary metals dealing, and protecting veterans'from discrimination in housing or employment as a result of their service.

Additionally, in November the Senate granted approval to three of Senator Downing's personal legislative priorities:

  • S. 1918 requires that all school athletic coaches be certified in CPR. This measure will protect the 200,000-plus student-athletes who participate in after school sports by ensuring that a responsible adult on the field is properly trained to handle a cardiac episode;
  • S. 1919 instructs the Department of Public Health to promulgate regulations to require all hospitals and birthing facilities to perform a pulse-ox screening on all newborns prior to their discharge. A pulse-ox test measures how efficiently the heart moves oxygenated blood through the body, and a low pulse-ox score can be an early indicator of Congenital Heart Defect (CHD); and
  • S. 1926 would put into place regulations to limit diversion and abuse of the opioid dependence treatment drug buprenorphine. Buprenorphine-based drugs like Suboxone help addicts transition away from opioid drugs, and it can be dispensed outside of the traditional inpatient clinic model. It has largely proven successful in combating the scourge of addiction, but a lack of state regulation has also allowed for rampant abuse.  
All three of these bills were unanimously passed by the Senate and are now before the House for consideration.
Two more of Senator Downing's bills breached the first hurdle on the way to engrossment this month. The Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government granted favorable reports to legislation Senator Downing filed to increase transparency in local budgets (S. 937), and a cost-saving measure regarding the printing of annual reports (S. 936). The bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Ethics and Rules, respectively. 
The House and Senate also gave final enactment to a Housing Bond bill, as well as legislation harmonizing state law with the "Right to Repair” ballot initiative that was approved last year. Those bills await the Governor's signature. Meanwhile, legislation passed in different forms by both branches continues to be subject of joint Conference Committee negotiations. Those bills include reforms to the state's welfare system, improving access and benefits to Massachusetts veterans, and regulating compounding pharmacies. Any compromise legislation produced by these committees would be the subject of an up-or-down vote by both the House and Senate with no opportunity for additional amendments.  Once approved the conference bill is forwarded to the Governor for his final approval.
The Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy (TUE) Committee, chaired by Senator Downing, held its first executive session in November, during which a re-drafted Committee bill on natural gas leaks and bill on double poles were reported favorably and released to the House of Representatives.  These bills are now being reviewed by the House Committee on Ways & Means.  Further, the Committee held a hearing on "miscellaneous" bills on November 12th, during which testimony was presented on proposals regarding water infrastructure, coal, towing reform and other issues. The Committee's next hearing will take place on Tuesday, December 3rd from 1PM-4PM in hearing room A-2, the subject is wind energy.

Coffee & Conversation in Cummington

On Monday November 18th, Senator Downing held his monthly Coffee and Conversation open forum at Cummington Town Hall.  This comfortable, welcoming building also serves as the Cummington Community House. Several constituents, including a few from out of town, attended to voice their concerns. 

Broadband expansion and its relation to public safety was thoroughly discussed and expanded upon through a dialogue regarding the inefficiency of police communication in many western Mass. hilltowns. Environmental issues regarding solar incentives in Rowe and endangered species in Cummington's Westfield River were also brought up before the conversation moved on to the education budget and Worthington's decision to remove itself from the Gateway School District through special legislation.  

Save the Date:  The December Coffee and Conversation will take place Monday, December 9th, from 2-4pm at the Williamsburg Town Hall (located at 141 Main Street, Haydenville).  Please join us!

Registration is now open for Student Government Day 2014

Attention high school teachers and administrators:  registration for 2014 Student Government Day is officially open! 

The 67th Annual Student Government Day will be held at the Massachusetts State House on Friday, April 4, 2014.  Every high school in Massachusetts is encouraged to send two students, in their junior or senior year, to represent their school.  One student will be the "designee” and the other will be an "alternate,” but both will actively participate in the day. The students will be assigned roles and have the opportunity to replicate the activities of Senators, Representatives, Supreme Court Justices or Constitutional Officers. 

The registration deadline is Friday, January 17, 2014.  Faculty advisors must register their students online at:

Internship Opportunity - Apply Now!

Senator Ben Downing is seeking a local college student to serve as an intern in his district office, located in downtown Pittsfield, on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the Spring 2014 Academic Semester. 

Student interns perform administrative duties to assist the Senator's staff, including switchboard coverage, database management, compilation of daily media clips, drafting official correspondence and conducting research on constituent inquiries and policy matters. Interns may be asked to attend meetings, briefings and hearings on behalf of the office. Special projects are assigned as necessary.

Successful interns should have a professional demeanor, be detail-oriented, possess superior written and communication skills and basic computer skills (Microsoft Office)  A demonstrated interest in state government and public service is expected. 

Preference is given to students with ties to the Senator's district or western Massachusetts. If you are interested, send a resume and cover letter to Bethann Steiner, the Senator's Chief of Staff by December 31, 2013.

RMV restores license renewal mail reminders

Good news for Massachusetts drivers: MassDOT Registrar of Motor Vehicles Rachel Kaprielian has announced birthday postcards will begin appearing in mailboxes this week across the Commonwealth to reminder drivers whose licenses expire in the month of December to renew online or head to a branch for a new picture. 

"The Registry ended the license reminder service 5 years ago in a fiscal crunch; over time we have had to get creative and more cost effective in all aspects of our business,” said Registrar Kaprielian. "Today, supported by advertising dollars, we are proud to once again offer this service to our customers.” 

The birthday postcard is personalized in order to provide the customer with the most efficient service possible by relaying one of two messages. The postcards will indicate if the driver is eligible to renew online at or if it they must visit a branch. 

A Massachusetts license is valid for five years and there are 4.75 million active licensed drivers in the Commonwealth today. Based on renewal rates, the RMV will send out between 87,000 and 92,000 postcard reminders monthly. 

Every 10 years license holders need to visit one of 30 RMV branches across Massachusetts, or one of the RMV's partner AAA offices, to have a new license photo taken as part of their credential renewal. Drivers age 75 and older at the time of renewal are required to have the renewal transaction completed in a branch or AAA office. 

The end of the year is a busy time for the Registry; don't wait until the last minute to renew. Drivers are encouraged to renew their license at least seven days prior to their birthday/license expiration to ensure that they have their new license in hand before the old license expires. 

Moved recently? To guarantee the renewal postcard is sent to your correct address you will need to update the address you have on file with the Registry. You can update your address online; it is a free service at

 Senator Ben Downing and his staff wish you a very happy, safe and blessed

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah!  

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