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Democrat Julie Kushner is running in the 24th state Senate District to challenge Republican incumbent Michael McLachlan. The District includes Danbury, New Fairfield, Sherman and part of Bethel.  Kushner raised her family in Connecticut and decided to run because to get some fresh perspectives in Hartford.  She is a working families advocate. 

McLachlan opposes the idea of tolling, saying it’s just another tax and an additional burden on residents.  He rejects the argument of proponents who say out-of-staters and heavy duty trucks paying their fair share is the goal, but McLachlan says the reality is that the total toll bill is going to be 75% paid by Connecticut residents.  He says the lock box is a good idea, but the proposal on the ballot has bus-sized loopholes.  He says the key is that it only stops money once the funding is in the lockbox from being spent on anything other than roads.  But he notes that it can be diverted before it gets to the lock box.

Kushner opposes tolls.  She says it would be a big financial hit on people in the district.   While there is a need to invest in transportation infrastructure, she doesn’t believe funding from tolls would be a good way to make those improvements.

Kushner says one of the highest priorities in the state should be fully funding the schools.  Her now adult son had learning disabilities and got tremendous support from the teachers and the special ed department at Danbury High School and today he has a master's degree.  She says that would not have happened without the care given to him by the teachers.  She wants to implement Universal Pre-K and focus on fully funding vocational education.  Kushner added that the state should do a better job of promoting vo-tech schools, because they are preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow.

McLachlan says some changes were made last session to the education cost sharing formula, making it less of a political game.  He says level, fair and equitable funding for schools in Connecticut that id closer to reality.  He notes that Danbury is the only school district in Western Connecticut that's growing and called it a scary idea for City taxpayers that Danbury may have to build another school.  He wants to see more ECS reforms to benefit Danbury.

There’s been an ongoing battle in New Fairfield, with the town wanting to ban walk ins at Squantz Pond, but the state hasn’t been willing to make the move.  McLachlan says it was disappointing to get to the two-yard line on banning walk-ins, only to meet with last minute objections from the state senator from Milford because she thought that it would negatively affect a Silver Sands State Park.  DEEP officials don't like the idea of creating a rule just for Squantz Pond, they want it to be a statewide rule.

Kushner says the local leadership in New Fairfield is making it a priority to protect the water, while protecting safety.  She believes the state should follow their lead.  Kushner is concerned with combating invasive species and blue-green algae.  She says the lake is a big part of the economy in the region.  She thinks there are smart measures already underway and wants to continue to address the issue.

As for school security, Kushner says safety is essential.  She touted the gun laws passed after the shooting at Sandy Hook School and wants to take further measures to protect schools through better security.

When it comes to the laws passed in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook School, McLachlan is proud that they were able to find another $5 million for special technology in school security.  The technology has been used by federal government agencies for years, and McLachlan says a Connecticut company is offering schools a way to communicate better among first responders.  He says the technology is going to let first responder see what's going on inside the building at the moment the panic button is hit.  He doesn’t see the gun reforms enacted in response to 12-14 to be repealed and isn’t sure he would be supportive of repeal.  McLachlan wants to return to a focus on mental health care, and not just blame the problem on an inanimate object such as a gun.  He wants to increase mental health resources.

Kushner is a backer of the medicinal marijuana program and wants to see more information on how the state would legalize recreational marijuana.  She says after spending time with friends who live in Colorado, there are some positives to the issue.  She says the source of tax revenue has really been important to that state, but it's something Connecticut should look at and study and make sure the right approach is taken.

McLachlan opposed medical marijuana and opposes the idea of marijuana being legalized when it's against federal law.  He says Connecticut should look to downtown Denver Colorado and says the people there who deal with Social Services say recreational marijuana legalization was a huge mistake.  He says there is marijuana tourism, which adds to the problem of illegal transport across state lines.

As for sports betting, McLachlan assumes that it’s going to happen here.  But he thinks there's a disagreement about the scope of sports betting in Connecticut.  He was critical of the state for never honoring the promise to have resources available for gambling addiction.  McLachlan doesn’t want to support any expansion of gambling until the addiction problem, even with lotto tickets, is addressed.

Kushner doesn’t believe OTB is the right answer for downtown Danbury.  She said sports betting has been a really controversial issue for the City.  She believes there are other ways to bring people downtown.

McLachlan says there were a number of good things that got done in the short session.  One was to help veterans as they are transitioning from a career in the military and want to move into civilian life.  He notes that a number are being recruited by law enforcement agencies, but because they were still technically active military, didn't qualify for the veterans bonus points added to their a civil service exam.  The bill will fix that problem.  What he is most proud of though, was what he called legendary movement with the budget.  McLachlan says it shows that there can be bipartisanship, leading to structural changes which will move the state forward.

Kushner says the best way to get the economy working and the best is to attract jobs and to bring new businesses to Connecticut.  In order to do that, Kushner says the state should be fully funding schools, investing in vocational education and making sure the infrastructure allows people to get to work easily.  She says offering the benefits that other states have adopted to attract young families, should be offered here.  She gave the example of paid family leave.  Kushner says having something that provides resources to families when they're having children, when they're taking care of a sick parent, or they themselves get ill, is a priority.  She recently started a petition and over the last 6 weeks says more than 2,000 people support paid family leave.

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Dave Rinelli
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