During this election season, I am privileged to participate in many candidate forums and debates for which the organizers usually submit a question like: What is the most important issue facing voters in your district this year?  Without hesitation, I tell them that the most critical issue for state lawmakers in 2020 is to build a firewall to protect Connecticut from actions at the federal level that threaten to undermine the basic rights that enable us to live, work, and thrive in Connecticut.

State Rep. Anne Hughes

We need look no further than the proposed appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court to fully understand the urgent need for a firewall to protect Connecticut residents.

Recently Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal held a roundtable discussion in Norwalk to discuss what Murphy called a “humanitarian crisis in Connecticut,” should Comey Barrett be confirmed and then provide the decisive vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which would suddenly deny health coverage to 267,000 low-income adults in Connecticut who are covered under the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and another 111,000 who have insurance through the state’s health care exchange, Access Health CT.

Murphy said, “We could be three months away from the ACA being gone and Connecticut being left to pick up the pieces.”

Picking up the pieces is what I mean by a firewall, because it would be left to the Connecticut state legislature to quickly devise policies to provide health coverage for 260,000 of our residents — and this doesn’t even address the millions more who obtain health coverage despite pre-existing conditions, which would also be endangered. This is why I serve on the assembly’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee, and have been working so hard to create an option for health care access to those who are losing their unaffordable coverage.

The possibility of a Coney Barrett confirmation would also present immediate threats to Connecticut women’s right to choose, and to many women’s health services we have long considered rights — from certain forms of contraception to IVF, as well as a real threat to hard-won right to marriage equality. Again, it would fall to us in state government to respond with swift passage of measures that would protect these basic rights.

When I discuss this in community meetings and forums, women immediately grasp the urgency of building a firewall.

The good news is that we have experience building strong firewalls for the people of Connecticut.  In the absence of federal action on sensible gun laws, we have enacted some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation here in Connecticut.  In response to the Trump administration’s relentless attempts to dismantle EPA regulations and to roadblock every attempt to enact climate policy, we’ve passed the State Water Plan, strengthened our environmental justice laws and community notice of polluting facilities, and enacted new offshore wind development programs, providing both the vital firewall to protect the state, and also the promise of good jobs in the renewable energy sector.

And Connecticut’s response to the COVID pandemic provides perhaps the most compelling example of how and why to build a firewall.

President Trump left us to fend for ourselves as our infection rates rose rapidly last spring. We were left without the testing and PPE supplies we needed to flatten the curve and protect our frontline workers and elders.  In response, we built a program and are still busy working to provide a safety net to protect residents from the virus, to strengthen infection control in our nursing homes and long-term care settings, provide for absentee safe voting, and to prepare to survive and recover from the pandemic recession that has already begun.

Connecticut is famous for robust policy debates.  This year, the issue at the top of the list is one upon which many of us can agree: if the federal judiciary is intent on dismantling our rights to everything from the ability to purchase affordable health coverage to the right to choose to the right to clean water, we’re already busy doing our job to keep building the firewall. It’s accountability season. We’re donning our ‘firefighting gear’ and ‘going in.’

State Rep. Anne Hughes of Easton, a Democrat, represents the 135th District.

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