Sen. Downing's Press Pass - September 2013

Beacon Hill Update

Labor Day marked the end of the summer recess, and the Legislature returned to Beacon Hill to address pending policy matters.  Senator Ben Downing spent much of this month focusing on his legislation to divest the public pension fund from fossil fuel companies.  This legislation, S. 1225, was reviewed by the Public Service Committee during a public hearing on September 10th.  The hearing room was packed with advocates and supporters who support Senator Downing's bill, many of whom had participated in a rally on the State House steps to endorse the legislation earlier in the day.  
 
This month the Massachusetts Senate approved legislation increasing the penalities for corporate manslaughter, updating the Department of Public Safety inspection laws and repealing the software services tax that was passes as a part of the tranportation financing package in July.

Legislative policy committees were busy this month, holding dozens of public hearings on various issues. Senator Downing submitted testimony on behalf of a number of bills he sponsored or supported, including: legislation requiring school athletic coaches to be certified in CPR; adjusting financing mechanisms for renewable energy projects; requiring transparency in outside election spending; shifting the Franklin Regional Council of Governments' retirement fund to the state system; and priority bills of both the Gateway Cities and Regional Transit Authority Caucuses. Additionally, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee voted to favorably report a Downing bill, S. 907 – An Act regulating the use of buprenorphine in opioid dependence treatment. S. 907 is now pending the review of the Health Care Financing Committee.


MCLA Fall Semester Opening Breakfast

On September 3rd Senator Ben Downing was pleased to join MCLA President Mary Grant, faculty members, students and staff and address those who attended the 2013 Fall Semester Opening Breakfast. 

This semester is particularly exciting for MCLA as the much-anticipated $30 million Center for Science and Technology is now open!  The Science Center's completion will be officially celebrated on October 4th during a ribbon cutting ceremony. 


Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy Committee Report

On September 25th Senator Ben Downing, the Senate chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy (TUE) Committee, moderated a panel on Energy System Resilience in a Changing Climate during the 4th Annual Sustainable Economy Conference, which took place in the Massachusetts State House. The panel included Assistant Secretary of Energy, Steven Clark; CEO of MassCEC, Alicia Barton; Senior Energy Analyst at Union of Concerned Scientists, Michael Jacobs; and Senior Research Engineer at MIT Energy Initiative, Howard Herzog. The Conference provided an opportunity for stakeholders with different backgrounds to come together and share their viewpoints on energy and climate change. 

Due in large part to the energy bill authored by the TUE Committee and signed into law last year, this week the Patrick Administration announced that Massachusetts' four utility companies have filed contracts for the largest procurement of renewable energy in New England with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU)The joint procurement by Northeast Utilities, which owns and operates NSTAR and Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECo), National Grid and Unitil would provide 565 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, enough to power about 170,000 homes. The weighted average price from all of the contracts is less than eight cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). 

The Committee also met its deadline by filing a required report with the Commissioner of Energy Resources this month, providing comment on the Department's proposed regulatory changes for the Commonwealth's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  The report reflects review and investigation into the regulatory changes proposed collaboratively by all participating RGGI states. 

Lastly, the TUE Committee convened two public hearings in September on bills relating to the Bottle Bill and utility reliability and service quality. Both hearings were well attended. The Committee's next hearing, on telecommunications bills, will take place on Tuesday, October 8th from 10AM-1PM in hearing room A-2.  It will be followed by a hearing on Municipal Lighting Plants on Tuesday, October 29th  from 1PM-4PM in hearing room A-2. 


Chester's new Council on Aging van

Back in May, when Senator Downing visited Chester for his Coffee & Conversation public forum, he learned that access to reliable and safe transportation services was a huge concern for area seniors, especially older residents of Chester and Huntington who often receive services in Westfield. 

While following up on those concerns, Senator Downing was able to find a van owned by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) that was no longer in heavy use.  The PVTA was willing to sell it to Chester, and the community agreed to purchase it for the COA. 

On September 6th, Senator Downing returned to Chester to celebrate the COA's new van, enjoy an ice cream social, and celebrate National Senior Center Month.  With this new van many of Chester's seniors are able to maintain their independence and live at home. 


Attention:  ACA changes coming on October 1st

Beginning October 1st, many components of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be implemented here in Massachusetts. The ACA will work in conjunction with Massachusetts' own health care reform to provide access to high-quality and affordable health care for everyone. However, the process may seem a bit daunting and confusing.  As such, whether you are a consumer or a small business owner, please contact Senator Downing's health care policy staff at (617) 722-1625 if you have questions.

This week, to assist with the dissemination of information prior to the transition, Senator Ben Downing released an Informational Resource Guide for Small Businesses, providing tips on the new benefits and requirements outlined in the ACA.  The pamphlets were mailed to each of the Chambers of Commerce in his district, and are available to download under the "Hot on the Hill" tab of his website, SenatorDowning.com

Consumers can  visit www.healthcare.gov or www.mahealthconnector.org for further information about new health care benefits and requirements.


Congratulations, Adams!

On September 16th the Patrick Administration announced that the Town of Adams will receive $600,000 from the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program to support infrastructure repairs, including a roof replacement, at the Adams Memorial School.

Once renovations are completed, the school building, located in the heart of downtown Adams, will be used for community purposes. Additionally, the Town will lease portions of the building to a nonprofit youth services provider and a startup food manufacturer.


Coffee & Conversation: Westhampton

On Monday, September 16th, Senator Ben Downing held his monthly Coffee and Conversation event at the Westhampton Town Hall in a cozy room with a built-in fireplace. Several constituents from the community joined him, ready to pose their questions and share their concerns. 

Hot topics included broadband internet access, renewable energy sources, issues facing regional school districts, vocational school transportation,  affordable healthcare, rural transportation services and housing assistance for seniors. 

Save the Date: 

October's Coffee and Conversation will take place on Tuesday, October 15th

from 2:00PM-4:00PM at Conway Town Hall (located at 32 Main Street).


Chesterfield Town Charter Restoration Celebration

On Monday, September 23rd Senator Ben Downing and Rep. Steve Kulik were able to present residents of Chesterfield with a framed digital copy of the restored original Chesterfield Town Charter.  As reported by the Hampshire Daily Gazette, the original Town Charter was found in very damaged condition at the State Archives when Rep. Kulik requested to see it last year, so that it could be displayed during the Town's 250th anniversary celebration. 

As a gift to the community Rep. Kulik, Sen. Downing and Sen. Stan Rosenberg, who represented Chesterfield when he was a State Representative  in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had the document restored by the Northeast Document Center in Andover. 

The restored original Charter is now safely  and properly stored at the State Archives, and the framed digital copy presented to the Town by its legislative delegation will be hung in the Selectmen's Office.

*Photo by Hampshire Daily Gazette.


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