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19th District state Senate hopefuls debate in Norwich

Norwich - The state's early release program for prison inmates became a central point in Wednesday's 19th District state Senate debate, with both candidates supporting more prison time for sex offenders, but disagreeing on some points in the law.

First-term incumbent Democrat Cathy Osten of Sprague and Republican challenger Steven Everett of Columbia are vying for the Senate district that covers Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich and Sprague. The two faced off in a one-hour debate Wednesday sponsored by The Day.

Questions from the audience asked the candidates to address a current problem in Norwich, where Broad Street neighbors recently discovered that four sex offenders on parole or probation are being housed with state rental subsidies in one apartment house.

Osten said she has been working on several aspects of sex offender registry legislation during her first term, and was a champion of tougher sex offender laws long before she was elected as a state legislator. Osten said she would favor longer-served prison times for sex offenders, and also is working on a plan to create a tiered registry designation at the request of Norwich police chief Louis Fusaro that would better identify the offenses of released convicts.

Everett admitted it's "very difficult to come up with the right answer" on how to deal with sex offenders. The state wants to be aware of where they live and to provide services and job assistance.

But he agreed that sex offenders should serve their maximum sentences. Everett said he opposes what he calls Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's early prisoner release program in general, and said Osten supported it. She quickly countered that she had not yet been elected when the bill was passed and she worked on adding language to add a list of crimes not eligible for the program.

A short time later, Everett said Osten "passed up" a chance to strengthen the law by mandating full prison times for sex offenders.

The candidates agreed on several issues - both oppose the controversial 2013 gun control law passed after the Sandy Hook School massacre and both support the recent state boost in education funding for Norwich as a school district in need of improvement.

But they differed on issues pertaining to the state's economy. Osten touted the recent announcement of federal funds to create a sheet metal manufacturing training program at Three Rivers Community College, but Everett questioned whether there is enough of a demand for sheet metal jobs with the state's declining manufacturing industry.

Osten said the region's manufacturers were the ones who requested the program to meet their demands.

Osten also supported the state Small Business Express Program, which she said has benefited businesses in Norwich and the district. She said many of the current job creation and business tax incentive programs have been in place for decades and were not just created under Malloy. But, she said, Malloy has been "more aggressive" in applying the programs.

Everett said it's wrong to just "hand-pick" certain businesses for state benefits. He argues a better approach to job creation and to helping struggling families would be to cut taxes for everyone. He said state business regulations, including regulations associated with the Small Business Express Program, are onerous and could dissuade some businesses from participating.

He said all companies would benefit from lower business taxes and operating costs that are driving businesses out and causing them to cut jobs.

"We need to make sure the business climate is good for all," Everett said.

Osten said one business owner who received Small Business Express funding told her he didn't mind the paperwork and the requirement to provide a business plan, because that proved the business was using the money properly and not just getting "free money."

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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