In her fourth term as a state legislator, Rep. Vickie Nardello is as dedicated to making the system work for her constituents, as she was the first day she took office.

A recent redrawing of district lines for the state house of representatives has left her 89th, covering Bethany, Prospect and Cheshire, mostly intact.

"It has been a pleasure to serve Bethany," she remarked, noting that the town remains entirely within her district.

A dental hygienist caring for children in the Hartford School System, she was initially encouraged to run for office by one of the teachers, who was impressed by her interest in health related legislative issues. Although she lost her first run against a long time incumbent, she persevered.

The next time, she won.

Her interest in delivering good health care to the public has remained strong. She serves on the House's Public Health Committee, initiating and crafting bills to make managed care manageable for consumers.

An independent appeals process, mental health parity, and an ombudsman who helps policy holders negotiate through the appeals process have all been enacted. Nardello is proud that she had a hand in drafting those bills and seeing that they were passed.

This session, she is chairing a subcommittee addressing hospital quality improvement. Composed of representatives from hospitals and managed care companies, peer review groups, the CT Business and Industry Association and labor groups, it is working on a bill calling for hospitals to conduct performance reports, reports that would be made public.

If the group drafts such a bill and it is passed, Nardello estimates it will then take about 18 more months for the state to create a hospital reporting system.

The Energy and Technology Committee, on which Nardello serves as Vice-Chair, is revisiting the energy-restructuring (electric deregulation) bill this year. Connecticut's deregulation is different from California's, she says, "When we worked on it, we did a lot of research and had the benefit of other states' experiences."

One difference is that New England's power companies cannot sell energy outside the region until their own needs are met; another, that the New England utilities entered into long term contracts to stabilize prices.

The restructuring bill also established price controls over the electric industry. These are due to end in 2004. Nardello says when the legislature meets for this session, it will decide whether to extend them beyond 2004.

Nardello also chairs another subcommittee, a Conservation and Renewable Energy Subcommittee, which is part of the Legislature's Energy and Technology Working Group. They have been studying fuel cell technology and the possibility of distributive generation to help ease congestion along transmission lines.

"It's clean and renewable," she said, explaining that distributive generation means placing small power plants close to users. They are also looking at incentives for consumers to reduce consumption, because "Connecticut has been experiencing one percent increase in usage per year."

Nardello would like to see performance based budgeting of state programs next session,

"We need to evaluate them to see if they should be funded again."

Although the legislature does not convene until the first week of February, "I've been attending subcommittees since October. These have been meeting twice weekly for 12 weeks."

When asked how the collapse of energy giant Enron will effect the state, she replied, "the State is losing $220 million because of the way the long term power purchase contract was bought out. I'm sure the legislature will have hearings to learn how to prevent this from happening again."

As far as state campaign finance reform is concerned, Nardello said the issue has been raised every year since she's been in the legislature and has never been enacted. Last year, the governor vetoed it.

"We need it," she said. "Many qualified candidates are discouraged from running because they have to spend all of their time fund raising."

Nardello enjoys her work in the legislature, putting to use the "people skills" she learned as a dental hygienist.

"A legislator has to be able to build consensus. The best legislators have good interpersonal skills and are well versed on the issues."

Her work during her term of service, has earned her the reputation of being among the best.