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Prague presses Montville ordinance on protecting seniors

By Jeffrey A. Johnson

Publication: The Day

Published November 10. 2012 4:00AM

Montville - State Sen. Edith Prague, a longtime supporter of senior rights, said Friday she favors a new town ordinance that aims to keep registered sex offenders away from the town's elderly and would like to see it become a statewide mandate.

"They're scared. They're frail. They're vulnerable," said Prague, D-Columbia, who is set to retire at the end of the year and made a visit to the senior center here. "Why should they be subjected to that kind of anxiety?"

The ordinance, passed a month ago by the Town Council, was designed to create so-called senior safety zones that keep registered sex offenders from town-owned property such as the senior center or senior buses as well as from events for the elderly.

The council adopted a similar ordinance that deals with children. Registered sex offenders are not allowed at town-owned or town-leased playgrounds, beaches, pools or sports facilities.

Both ordinances drew sharp criticism from Councilor Dana McFee and the state American Civil Liberties Union. Andrew Schneider, the ACLU's executive director, said sex offender safety zones trample on basic fundamental rights.

He also said there was little evidence to support the town's belief that its seniors are targets of sex crimes. McFee argued the ordinances are unenforceable and a waste of time and money.

The Town Council is scheduled to discuss amendments to both ordinances at its meeting Wednesday. But both Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel Jr. and Councilor Billy Caron said Friday they intend to continue the push to make sure both ordinances go into effect.

"We are taking some criticism on it, but we're not going to stop," Caron said.

The sex offender safety zones were proposed as the town fought the state's plan to open a residential sex offender treatment facility on the grounds of the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center. The 24-bed January Center opened Feb. 14.

The sex offender restrictions resemble other child safety ordinances adopted in Brookfield, Danbury, New Milford, Ridgefield and Windsor Locks. Danbury was the first in 2006 to adopt child safety zones that preclude sex offenders.

Danbury Mayor Mark D. Boughton said Friday the city has issued very few tickets for sex offenders found in violation of the safety zones. A first offense in Danbury means a warning and a second offense results in a $250 fine, Boughton said. Montville has instituted a $99 fine for the first offense.

Boughton said the main point was to put sex offenders on notice that they are being watched. He did not see the merit of creating an ordinance to protect seniors from sex offenders.

"I'm not really sure you could ban a sex offender from the senior center," Boughton said. "I'm not a constitutional law expert, but I think you'd have a hard time defending a challenge (in court). I don't think there's any public good you can demonstrate."

Prague pointed Friday to a former legislative proposal that aimed to create statewide restrictions on where sex offenders are allowed.

She has spoken with other state lawmakers, who have assured her the proposed law will be revisited in the coming session of the General Assembly. Cathy Osten, the first selectman of Sprague, will take Prague's Senate seat.

A previous version of the legislation, introduced in 2011, would have created a risk assessment board that would determine the likelihood of whether sex offenders would commit future sex crimes.

Based on the board's findings, certain offenders would then be prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, senior centers or elderly housing.

Leo C. Arnone, commissioner of the Department of Correction, argued against it. He said it would interfere with the state's ability to supervise sex offenders on parole and would limit already scarce housing options for these offenders.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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