State lawmakers are working on a bill to prevent situations similar to the opening of a new home for individuals convicted of sexually violent offenses in Tenino that has surprised, worried and angered many area residents.
State Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, and state Reps. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, and Travis Couture, R-Allyn, are writing legislation that would close a public notice loophole allowing private operators to house violent offenders in low-security adult group homes with minimal notice and assurance of adequate community protection, according to a news release.
The legislation would impose stronger requirements for notice and public comment for group homes housing sex offenders who have been determined to be dangerous by the state. The three 35th District lawmakers plan to introduce the bills in the Senate and the House.
“We want people to know we are working on legislative solutions,” MacEwen 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 proposed home would be operated by Supreme Living, a private vendor, to house sex offenders offshored from the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. The Special Commitment Center houses sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences but remain in “civil commitment” because of a high likelihood of reoffending. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is planning to place sexually violent offenders in communities around the state to address overcrowding at the facility. The Department of Corrections would be responsible when sex offenders walk away from unsecured facilities, such as the Tenino home.
The Tenino residential care facility is scheduled to accept its first resident, a registered level two sex offender, on Feb. 1. The facility will be considered supportive housing. Everything residents need will be provided at the site. Residents are not permitted to leave.
Enforcement protocol is to call the state Department of Corrections (DOC), which Supreme Living expects will respond 24/7 to arrest a resident who leaves the property for violating their probation.
An issue similar to the Tenino house occurred in Lakewood in 2021 after lawmakers enacted a law, SB 5163, requiring notification and public comment. However, the law didn’t apply to situations in which sex offenders are placed in less-secure adult group homes designed for challenged adults.
In the case of Tenino, the operator approached Thurston County in May with a proposal for a home that would house 11 offenders. But when informed by county officials the proposal would require a permit allowing the county to impose conditions, Supreme Living was able to circumvent the process by reducing the number of offenders that would be housed to five, allowing them to gain approval from DSHS instead, the lawmakers seeking the new legislation claim.
“We thought we had this issue addressed with the hard work done on both sides of the aisle in 2021 in SB 5163,” Griffey said. “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.”
Couture called the proposed Tenino house “dangerous and irresponsible” and criticized the state government for a lack of transparency.
“The people of Tenino and surrounding areas have every right to be outraged,” Couture said. “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.”