Bill being drafted to improve public notice – issue for Lakewood as well
OLYMPIA – Thurston County lawmakers are working on legislation to stop what’s happening in Tenino, where residents have been blindsided by an announcement last week that a new home for convicted sexually violent predators will soon open.
Sen. Drew MacEwen and Reps. Dan Griffey and Travis Couture are working on legislation to close public-notice loopholes allowing private operators to house violent sex predators in low-security adult group homes with minimal notice and little assurance of adequate community protection. Legislation currently being drafted would impose stronger requirements for notice and public comment for privately operated group homes that house sex offenders deemed dangerous by the state. The 35th District lawmakers plan to introduce the bills in the Senate and the House.
Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, noted that the bills are in the early drafting stages and more details about the proposal will be available later. “We want people to know we are working on legislative solutions,” he said. “No one can blame the community for being upset. This has been in the works for months, yet the neighbors found out about it just three weeks before the first sex predator is due to arrive. We’re talking about a million-dollar home with acreage, facing a small lake popular for water-skiing practice. If state agencies and the vendor really think ankle bracelets will provide adequate security, they should be willing to withstand the scrutiny of their neighbors, local law enforcement agencies, and everyone else concerned with the safety of the community.”
The home at 2813 140th Ave SW will be operated by private vendor Supreme Living to house sexually violent predators (SVPs) offshored from the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. The center houses sex offenders who have completed prison sentences but remain in “civil commitment” due to the likelihood they will offend again. The Department of Social and Health Services plans to place sexually violent offenders in communities across the state to relieve overcrowding at the secure island facility. The Department of Corrections is supposed to be responsible when sex predators walk away from unsecure facilities such as the Tenino home.
It’s not the first time a community has been blindsided by the state’s sex-predator placement policies. A similar issue erupted in the city of Lakewood in 2021, after lawmakers attempted to solve concerns by passing a law (SB 5163) establishing strict rules for notification and public comment. The heightened rules apply when a privately operated facility is designed specifically for sexually violent predators, and local governments can establish control via zoning requirements. However, as Lakewood discovered, the tough rules for public scrutiny don’t apply when sex predators are placed in less-secure adult group homes designed for challenged adults. In the Tenino case, the operator approached Thurston County in May with a proposal for a 11-predator home. But when county officials said they would require a permit, allowing them to impose conditions, Supreme Living avoided the tough local notice and review requirements by reducing the number of predators to five and getting approvals from DSHS instead, according to a statement from Commissioner Carolina Melia.
“We thought we had this issue addressed with the hard work done on both sides of the aisle in 2021 in SB 5163,” said Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn. “But it is clear that the companies behind these efforts – and DSHS – have found a work-around, leaving our communities at risk. “Ensuring the people of Washington State have safe communities to live in is one of our most important jobs and housing sexually violent predators considered among the most likely to reoffend in those communities – without proper notice or public process – is a clear violation of the Legislature’s intent.”
Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, said: “Placing sexually violent predators in an unsecure residential home is dangerous and irresponsible, and the people of Tenino and surrounding areas have every right to be outraged. At the very least, state agencies should have been transparent and given public notice of this plan, so that citizens could voice their concerns to the officials who are supposed to be serving them. Any legislative effort that prevents this from happening again has my full support.”