State Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, criticized the decision by Gov. Jay Inslee to veto budget provisions addressing notification of residents when sexually violent predators are relocated to their communities from McNeil Island.
Braun also spoke against vetoes of a special education performance audit, performance measurement requirements for Medicaid, a housing supply and affordability task force and reforms to state leasing rules.
“It’s very disappointing that the governor vetoed provisions that would have addressed accountability and transparency in state government. Unfortunately, it’s consistent with the long history of mismanagement that is the hallmark of his term as governor. Job one should be providing responsible expectations and guidance to his agencies,” Braun said in a prepared statement.
Braun called Inslee's veto of the requirement for the Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) to notify people when dangerous sexual predators are released into their communities “irresponsible.”
“People should not be kept in the dark about convicted violent rapists and child molesters moving into their neighborhood. They deserve to know if some of the worst criminals in our society are moving in next door,” Braun said.
A spokesperson for the governor's office issued a statement following The Chronicle's publication of Braun's comments and those of other Republicans in the Legislature.
"State law already requires notification from law enforcement when offenders are released into a less-restrictive alternative, as happened in the Enumclaw case some Republican legislators are citing," the spokesperson stated. "This proviso would not have changed any part of the release process, but it would have required DSHS to conduct duplicative efforts that local law enforcement already carry out under statute. Strong concern for public safety is exactly why this program exists, to ensure a far stronger level of oversight than in the many states where offenders are unconditionally released into communities without any restrictions or monitoring."
The spokesperson also noted the budget still funds DSHS to explore regulatory framework options for LRA (less restrictive alternatives) placements, review and refine agency policies regarding communication and engagement with locals, identify opportunities for collaboration and support for locals and provide recommendations to improve cost-effectiveness of LRA placements.
But lawmakers from the 35th Legislative District echoed Braun's criticism of Inslee’s veto. The lawmakers said they were “appalled” by Inslee’s decision to veto language in the state operating budget that would have required additional notice before the placement of SVPs in low-security group homes in communities across Washington.
"I am extraordinarily frustrated by the governor's partial veto," said state Senator Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton. "In his message he cites the proviso as being 'administratively burdensome. Our communities rightly expect to be kept safe, and this proviso was intended to help in that effort. To suggest that that is too burdensome of an obligation is frankly abhorrent. It is time for this administration to step up and be engaged in protecting our communities and look at overhauling a bureaucracy that is failing."
State Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, called Inslee’s veto “dangerous” and “tone deaf,” and argued the decision ignored prioritizes sexually violent predators over public safety.
“It also completely ignores the voice of communities that have spoken loud and clear on this issue,” Griffey said.
State Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, claimed the veto justifies what he says are the concerns of communities regarding safety and the placement of sexually violent predators in neighborhoods.
"This veto completely disregards public safety needs — it's that simple," Couture said. "For the governor to reject this common-sense reform requiring public notice before placing dangerous sex predators in neighborhoods because it would burden a state agency that has a long record of failure is indefensible.”
The budget provision vetoed by Inslee would have required DSHS to provide local government officials with notice and an opportunity to comment before placing a sexually violent predator home within their communities. The notice and comment opportunity would have also been given to federally-recognized Native American tribes before a sexually violent predator could be placed within one mile of a reservation.
The effort to pass the budget provision was led by state House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, to respond to what the 35th District legislators argue is a statewide issue that also has particularly affected their district. A proposed home for SVPs that would have been placed in Tenino caused public outcry and a protest at the state capitol. As similar situation took place in Enumclaw, with neither community receiving notice until shortly before placements were to occur.
The legislators argue community pushback helped defeat the housing proposal in Tenino.
"The fact that public notice is not already a requirement before DSHS can place these homes in a community is appalling and — again — dangerous policy," Griffey said.
The 35th District legislators all sponsored bills addressing the issue of housing for SVPs during the legislative session that adjourned at the end of April. MacEwen sponsored a bill in the Senate, with Couture sponsoring a companion bill in the House, that would have closed a public notice loophole. Griffey and Couture also cosponsored a bill in the House that would have placed a three year moratorium on the placement of homes for SVPs in communities and created a workgroup to examine the issue and issue recommendations. None of the proposed bills received hearings during the legislative session.
After the bills failed to advance, Griffey and Couture sent a letter to Inslee on March 1 asking him to use his authority to place a moratorium on the placement of SVP homes in communities. Inslee has not yet responded to the legislators’ letter.
Braun further criticized Inslee for vetoing provisions related to the auditing of special education funds.
“The governor has talked a lot about trusting data these last few years. So how is it that he eliminated a performance audit that would have gathered data about the current state of special education funding? The findings would have helped the state spend millions in new funding where it’s needed most,” Braun said.
According to Braun, special education services are chronically underfunded and argued it’s important to find out how the state is failing children with special needs.
“The governor should want the transparency this audit would have provided. He should also want the state to be held accountable for how it has shortchanged children who need extra support,” Braun said.
Braun also referred to Inslee’s veto of a provision defining performance expectations for the Washington State Health Care Authority’s provision of Medicaid as “irresponsible.”
Inslee’s veto of a provision creating a Housing Supply and Affordability Task Force also drew fire from Braun, calling the task force a “Republican priority” that would have sought to increase the supply of housing people can afford.
“Inslee’s veto … is further evidence that the governor puts politics over people. He eliminated another entity that would have had oversight of the state’s actions and could have advised on the best way to spend money for affordable housing. It’s a huge missed opportunity,” Braun said.