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Housing Restrictions for Sex Offenders, Violent Felons Moves Closer to Approval in Puyallup

The Puyallup City Council unanimously approved the first draft of an ordinance that would prohibit sex offenders or violent criminals from living together in residential neighborhoods.

Halfway houses for sex offenders and violent felons is one step closer to being illegal in Puyallup residential neighborhoods, after the council approved the first reading of an ordinance amending city code on Tuesday.

The ordinance would prohibit two or more sex offenders and violent felons from living under the same roof in Puyallup's residential zones. The law does allow for halfway houses in the city's central business core, if the landowner goes through the proper permitting process. 

"We're breaking new ground with this," said Mayor Rick Hansen. 

The ordinance identifies a ‘violent felon’ as someone who has been convicted of residential burglary, second-degree burglary, first degree malicious mischief and first degree theft.

The council wavered on whether or not violent offenders should be included in the housing restrictions but decided to pass the first reading of the ordinance and discuss the issue further.

Councilman John Palmer said there are "pros and cons" to "casting such a wide net," and Councilman John Knutson encouraged the council to consider narrowing the definition to sex offenders only.

"Murderers, rapists and [thieves] are all threats to the general public," said deputy city attorney Steve Kirkelie. "When you tread on new ground, it's always helpful to have a narrow and focused approach on one particular group. When you have more people that you are regulating as a government, that's a wider net of people who won't like what you're doing."

Under the proposed ordinance, a property owner interested in housing multiple sex offenders or violent felons would have to submit and receive a conditional use permit (CUP) before allowing two or more to live together. 

The city would not issue a CUP if a similar permit has already been issued for another dwelling within 880 feet. The CUP process requires a public hearing before the hearing examiner and allows Puyallup leaders to seek conditions that address public safety and welfare.

The ordinance also would add a new chapter to Puyallup's business licensing regulations, allowing the city to impose additional conditions in a business license to address harmful impacts on the community from certain businesses such as airports, hazardous waste facilities, and facilities where two or more sex offenders and violent felons reside.  

For example, the city could require a "significant impact business" to provide high amounts of liability insurance, to post a bond, or provide other types of security.         

Council members agreed on Tuesday that a business license should be required for shared housing units in Puyallup, for both sex offenders and violent felons. 

"A business cannot operate in residential zones, but any property owner is technically operating a business, even though we don’t require them to have a business license," said Kirkelie.

City regulations currently allow up to six unrelated individuals to live together, but there are no specifications on housing for convicted criminals.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 5105 and companion House Bill 1232 that relate to the sex offender voucher program both received public hearings in Olympia last week. 

The two bills propose different conditions, however. The House Bill limits the number of sex offenders residing together to three (with exceptions); the Senate legislation recommends eight.

"The mood of the court is not going to allow us to do what we would like to do," said Knutson. "If we use our tools, we have a chance of success."

Lauren Padgett (Editor) February 07, 2013 at 01:19 AM
The moderator of Shaw ComeTogether Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/shaw.cometogether) had this to say about the meeting, which I think is worth sharing: "Last nights meeting felt like it took a turn for the worse when Deputy Mayor Knutsen suggested they eliminate violent offenders from their ordinance. It seems that Deputy City Attorney Steve Kirkelie agreed because of ability for enforcement. I personally would like to see anyone who wants to offer some kind of transitional housing have to follow some other rules than releasing felons in to community custody and supervised by the DOC. An onsite visit or requiring them to meet with their parole officer (once a week or once a month) is no kind of supervision for community safety. While I understand they need to go somewhere, there should be some regulations to keep our communities safe. Simply warehousing people, there should be requirements of the houses that are being set up to transition people back in to society. I believe the business license is critical for these types of houses, but what do we give up in that? If you want to rent a house out to a group of college students, would you be ok with having to apply for some kind of permit or license? That's what this comes down to...PLEASE GET INVOLVED! It's imperative right now. Let your city council know your ideas. We have to accept this in to our community, but we need protection from someone just wanting to buy a house and warehouse people who have special needs!"
Jim February 08, 2013 at 04:59 AM
1. Their definition of violent offender is nonsense. 2. These types of laws are based on lies and end up costing towns millions because they will be fought by the ACLU. 3. Washington in particular has the habit of labeling young teens as sex offenders.
Jim February 08, 2013 at 05:03 AM
Once people serve their sentence that is it. This watching and labeling has been shown to increase the chance they will do it again. Our justice system has been driven by the fear and wish for control I see in your comment and it leads to a massive prison population and to a reoffence rate of 60%. That rate is around 5% for sex offenders In other countries they have tried a very different model and have achieved rates as low as 20% in Norway.

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