Following Tenino surprise, bill requires adequate public notice for sex predator homes

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CONTACT: Hanna Scott, Public Information Officer for Reps. Travis Couture and Dan Griffey | 360-968-3938

Following Tenino surprise, bill requires adequate public notice for sex predator homes

35th District lawmakers respond to public uproar – new requirements from Thurston County delay Feb. 1 opening

A Tenino sex-predator home that caught lawmakers and neighbors by surprise is prompting action at the state Capitol and county seat.

Legislation has been introduced by Sen. Drew MacEwen to require adequate public notice when the Department of Social and Health Services contemplates placing sexually violent predators (SVPs) in nearby adult group homes. Fellow 35th District Reps. Dan Griffey and Travis Couture are planning to introduce the same measure in the House.

Meanwhile, Thurston County officials appear to have thrown a wrench into the plan for a Feb. 1 grand opening at 2813 140th Ave SW, notifying the owner that existing water permits are not adequate. The Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department told Supreme Living Residential Care Services Tuesday that it would need to apply for new permits for drinking water and septic tanks.

Tenino-area residents formally learned of the plan to open a group home for sex predators at a public meeting this month, less than a month before the first predator was due to arrive.

MacEwen, R-Shelton, said Thurston County’s water-permit requirements will likely delay the opening of the new sex-predator home, and give county officials time to consider changes to county zoning. The 35th District lawmakers say they hope their legislation will get a quick hearing, and prevent communities from being caught off-guard in the future.

“The people in the area are telling us this is absolutely the wrong place to put a home for sex predators, and government needs to listen to them,” MacEwen said. “The house is in a rural area where law enforcement response times are long. It is adjacent to a lake where children attend summer camps. The state says these sex offenders are at a high risk of reoffending, yet the only security measures contemplated are ankle bracelets. What could possibly go wrong?

“But the worst part of the story is that the community never got a chance to speak up and head this off. When the state plans to move sex predators into the neighborhood, people deserve a chance to be heard.”

Senate Bill 5544 closes a loophole in state law, imposing public notice requirements on the Department of Social and Health Services when it moves sexually violent predators to low-security adult group homes operated by private vendors. Under Washington law, DSHS takes “civil custody” of high-risk sex offenders after their prison sentences expire, housing them initially at its Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. Some predators eventually are moved elsewhere in the state. Heightened notice and public comment rules apply when predators are moved to secure facilities, but not when they are placed in less-secure group homes.

The bill says DSHS must ensure opportunities for public notice and comment before contracting with group home operators to take sexually violent predators. Before public meetings are held, the agency or the vendor must provide 14 days’ advance notice, including ads in newspapers and on radio and TV. DSHS also would be required to contact local government planning agencies and coordinate public meetings to allow effective input from neighbors and other interested parties.

“I applaud the people of Tenino and surrounding areas for standing up to this misguided and dangerous plan,” said Couture, R-Allyn. “Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect the people of Washington from violent sexual predators, and I am working with state and local officials to ensure that happens. In addition to better public notice requirements, facilities that house dangerous criminals must have high security standards and must be held liable if they fail to protect the public. We also need more local control over placement of these facilities to ensure they’re located far from schools, parks, and other vulnerable sites. The status quo is simply not acceptable.” 

The 35th District lawmakers met Wednesday with state agency officials representing DSHS and the Department of Corrections, seeking explanations. The agency officials underscored that heightened public notice requirements do not apply when sexually violent predators are placed in “less restrictive alternative” housing, such as group homes. Griffey, R-Allyn, said the meeting demonstrated an urgent need for tighter rules for housing sexually violent predators.

“Our meeting with state officials exposed gaps in the current system that put communities at risk,” Griffey said. “At the same time, it highlighted what we need to do to protect our communities.”

Griffey led efforts in the Legislature to protect communities from dangerous sex predators with  passage of a bill in 2019 to eliminate the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes involving victims under age 16. Griffey said that when state agencies place sex predators in communities, they have a responsibility to ensure people who live nearby are informed and protected. “They can’t just punt on public safety.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov