Will continue seeking legislation to fix underlying policy
OLYMPIA – Cancellation of a planned Tenino-area group home for sex predators offers relief for South Thurston County, say lawmakers representing the 35th Legislative District, but Olympia isn’t finished with the issue.
The lawmakers say they will continue to press for bills that would improve community notification procedures and declare a moratorium on the state policy that is sending the state’s most incorrigible sex offenders to low-security adult group homes in communities across the state.
“Thank you to the active Tenino community members who brought this matter to all our attention and were relentless in making sure their voice was heard,” said Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton. “I am pleased that predators will not be placed in the Tenino community. I also am grateful for the quick action by Thurston County to slow this down. Now it is time for the Legislature and governor to enact meaningful legislation that creates an open process and ensures the safety of all of our communities.”
Supreme Living, operator of the proposed group home at 2813 140th Ave SW, confirmed in January that it would be housing sex predators offshored from a secure facility on McNeil Island, just three weeks before the first was due to arrive. The announcement blindsided neighbors, the community, county elected officials and law enforcement. Local uproar ensued, as no special security arrangements were planned, and because the property fronts a lake frequented by children in summertime.
County officials reacted quickly, declaring water permits to be insufficient, giving commissioners time to review zoning for the property. On Tuesday, Supreme Living announced on Facebook that it was throwing in the towel “due to resources and expenses associated with land use requirements, it will not proceed with providing supportive housing services at its Tenino property.”
“Today’s welcome news is the result of the persistent efforts by the people of Tenino and Thurston County officials,” said Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn. “For now, Tenino is safe from the state’s plan to release sexually violent predators into their neighborhoods. But we need to put a stop to this practice for good. No community in Washington state deserves what almost happened to Tenino and what is happening in other regions. State government needs to get back to the basics and do what it takes to protect law-abiding citizens from the most dangerous sex predators in our society. I won’t quit pushing reforms until the public is made absolutely safe.”
“While this is a victory for Tenino, other communities are still facing the same scenario as we speak, and any one of our communities could be next if the current policy remains on the books,” said Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn. “That is why it is imperative that we put a moratorium in place and create a task force to find the best path forward for placing dangerous, sexually violent predators in less restrictive alternatives that meet the constitutional requirements of the court while protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.”
The 35th District lawmakers said the immediate issue appears to be resolved, but the case has exposed serious problems with the state’s community sex-predator housing plan. The predators are a special class of sex offenders, held over by the state in civil commitment on McNeil Island after their prison terms are completed, due to the high likelihood they will reoffend. In 2021, lawmakers passed SB 5163, outlining procedures to house them in high-security and less-restrictive facilities statewide.
However, the law imposes no special notification requirements on the state when sex predators are housed in group homes. Similar uproars have occurred in Enumclaw and Lakewood.
The 35th District lawmakers have introduced legislation addressing the issue. Sen. MacEwen has introduced a bill to improve community notification procedures, SB 5544, and Rep. Couture has introduced a companion bill in the House, HB 1734. Reps. Griffey and Couture have introduced HB 1813, which would end sex-predator placements in less-restrictive group homes while a legislative task force reconsiders the policy.