Monday, May 27, 2024

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Freedman Addresses State Issues in Talk

By Jennifer Connic

State Sen. Judith Freedman, R-26, touched on a number of topics that face state officials this year including affordable housing during a talk with the Y’s Men of Westport Weston today.

Freedman, a Westport resident, gave an update on the issues facing the state senate this session before taking questions from the audience.

She said she believes the state affordable housing law—which requires each town to have 10 percent of its housing stock be labeled as affordable—will never be repealed.

Under the state law, if a town does not have enough affordable housing a developer can propose a housing development with 30 percent of the homes labeled as affordable.

In that case, the burden of proof would switch from the applicant to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission would then have to show there is an issue of health, safety or welfare that is greater than affordable housing in order to deny the application.

The Westport P&Z recently rejected such an application that would have constructed condominiums in the Gorham Avenue Historic District.

Freedman said she would love to repeal the law, but she never sees it happening.

“There has not been any change because every time changes are on the table people add on repealing the law,” she said. “We’ve had the law for 18 years and it is not working. We haven’t made any advances in affordable housing.”

Instead of the state law governing how affordable housing is implemented, she said, there should be local control with the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We want to make sure our workforce and seniors can live in town,” she said. “Our P&Z is in tune with that right now.”

Local zoning boards can do things like were done in Norwalk, she said, where those who proposed housing developments are required to set aside a portion to be affordable.

With transportation, Freedman said, she hopes parents put their children on school buses in order to foster a generation of mass transit users.

When she was growing up in the Stratfield section of Fairfield, she said, she regularly took the bus to downtown Bridgeport, which was the hub of activity in her childhood.

“It’s a different style of living now,” she said. “Kids don’t even take the school bus. What sort of example are we setting?”

It’s a parent’s obligation to have their children ride the school bus, she said, because it will make a difference in the future.

State officials are also looking for ways to replenish the teacher pension fund, Freedman said, and there is a plan on the table to use a portion of the budget surplus to do so.

“How we got into this mess is sad,” she said.

State officials and the teachers union agreed 15 years ago to use the pension fund in order to help pay the budget during difficult years, she said.

The pension fund went from funding 100 percent of the teachers’ pensions to 85 percent, Freedman said, and it kept dropping and went as low as 62 percent.

Some state officials, including the governor, don’t want to bond to pay back the pension fund, she said, but she doesn’t see another alternative.

“We owe it to (the teachers),” she said. “We want to make sure they get what is owed to them.”

Teachers don’t pay social security and are not eligible to receive it, she said, but they are also not eligible to receive a spouse’s social security benefits when they die.

Freedman said she also hopes state officials adopt Jessica’s Law, a law that would give stricter punishments to sex offenders against children, soon so Connecticut can join the 42 other states that have the law.

“It’s heartbreaking to turn on the television and see what is going on,” she said. “When I grew up in Fairfield, you could go all over by yourself because our parents knew we’d be safe. That’s gone now. You can’t even play in your own backyard.”

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