In an interview, State Representative Anne Hughes, a candidate for re-election, discussed topics currently of significant local interest, accomplishments from her first term, and the priorities she would have if returned to office by voters.
The full video of the interview, above, runs 23 minutes.
Even while the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) reconsiders utility rate increases and the response by Eversource and United Illuminating to Tropical Storm Isaias, the General Assembly will take up utility regulation in a special session later this month.
Rep. Hughes said she and Representative Raghib Allie-Brennan will reintroduce legislation first proposed in 2012, the Utility Accountability Act, and fold it into the currently-proposed Take Back Our Grid Act.
The intent of the bill, said Ms. Hughes, "is to hold the utility companies accountable." They have "become a monopoly," she said, enjoy a guaranteed 9-¼ percent profit regardless of performance, pay executives excessively, and "snuck in rate hikes and delivery charges" this summer.
Rep. Hughes said the Take Back Our Grid Act would require utilities to credit customers if power is not restored within 72 hours and reimburse for lost food and medicine. Profits would be tied to performance metrics. The companies "need to serve rate-payers first," said Ms. Hughes, and noted that the proposed bill has bipartisan backing and "tremendous public support."
A renewed focus on affordable housing is one aspect of an effort to correct "generations of systemic inequity and exclusion," said Rep. Hughes. "It's about creating a welcoming, diverse community."
Currently, various caucuses in the Legislature advocate different approaches to increasing affordable housing in suburban communities, including changes to zoning regulations. Ms. Hughes said the issue is much larger than zoning, and that she does not favor eliminating two-acre zoning.
She said no legislature can address the larger issues "with either carrots or sticks," and said much of the problem is tied to inequality in public education. She said it is "fundamentally not tenable" to continue financing schools with property taxes, but that federal dollars are needed.
Changes to how public schools are funded, she said, will require "rallying the public will to address that at its core."
Rep. Hughes said a major success of her first term in office was "changing the expectation of the electorate" to one where citizens can expect their representative to be "much more accessible." She said significant legislative achievements such as the Paid Family Leave program were largely due to input received from constituents.
Later in the interview, Ms. Hughes said she was proud that the Legislature and Governor Ned Lamont adopted a balanced budget without raising effective tax rates and built up the rainy day fund. Now, she said, in the midst of a continuing pandemic, "the top priority is survival."
Rep. Hughes is particularly proud that Senate Bill 1 passed in the August special session, an act that limits the cost of insulin and diabetic supplies to $100 per month. Referring to testimony at a Weston Town Hall meeting in October of 2019 with legislators and Attorney General William Tong, she said the bill is "literally lifesaving."
If re-elected, Rep. Hughes said her top priorities would be affordable healthcare, economic recovery, and infrastructure.
Regarding healthcare, Ms. Hughes lamented that the state's health insurance exchange has only two plans, each carrying high costs and deductibles, with insufficient subsidies to make them affordable. She spoke of people paying more every month for health insurance premiums and deductibles than they do for home mortgages.
Of particular concern, she said, is people who compromise their own health because of healthcare costs. "We're either going to pay for that on the front end or the back end," she said.
Ms. Hughes has long advocated for the "public option" that allows businesses and individuals to join health plans offered to public employees. Providing relief to families and small businesses from high insurance costs, she said, would allow them to put more money into the economy for local services and local goods. "It's a win-win," she said. "We have incredibly strong insurance lobbyists," said Ms. Hughes, but that overcoming their resistance "could make Connecticut a destination for workforce talent."
Rep. Hughes called for "equitable economic recovery," noting that even before the pandemic, "60 percent of Connecticut households were living paycheck to paycheck."
She sees infrastructure improvements needed not only in transportation, communications, water, and utilities, but also in care. "The care infrastructure has been broken," she said, including nursing and workers who care for children and the elderly. This "has to be addressed to keep the economy growing," said Ms. Hughes.
Citing the Legislature's expansion of absentee-ballot voting for the November election, Rep. Hughes said, "Connecticut is really fortunate to have a secure system that doesn't rely on the post office," but also said those wishing to vote in person would be able to do so safely.
She encourages the public to not only vote, but also to urge friends and relatives to register, vote, and ensure "a viable, survivable outcome to November's election."