House leaders on the House Public Safety Committee heard public testimony on Tuesday, Jan. 29 on a bill that would place new conditions on the housing voucher program for sex offenders, specifically Level 3 - the most likely to reoffend.
Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup and a co-sponsor of the measure said current law lacks necessary parameters.
“When residents in the Shaw Road neighborhood in Puyallup learned about a potential house for sex offenders last summer it showed us that we need new safeguards,” said Zeiger. “There needs to be better notification provisions and compliance with zoning policies. We must also require a specific distance between facilities that house registered sex offenders and child care facilities and schools so we know our neighborhoods are safe for children.”
Specifically, House Bill 1232 adds five conditions to the housing voucher program for sex offenders:
- Rules for property owners to notify local governments about intended facilities for sex offenders.
- Requires facility compliance with local zoning policies and other regulations.
- A maximum of three registered sex offenders in one location.
- Department of Corrections notification to local governments regarding the name and risk level of offenders.
- Requires distance between facilities that house registered sex offenders, and requires distance from schools and child-care facilities.
A number of residents from Puyallup showed up to testify in favor of the legislation, including councilmember John Knutson.
"Our biggest complaint here is the gathering of these people... to put them in a think tank or brain pool is not correct," Knutson told the Public Safety Committee. "Putting them out in the community individually and seperate from each other eases the public's mind--to know there is one person, opposed to six."
Puyallup assistant city attorney Steve Kirkelie encouraged the senators to address the "preemption language" of the law as it stands now and pass this bill to give cities more muscle in this kind of situation.
"This is a very focused, very limited piece of legislation," Kirkelie said. "Until you address that preemption language and give us the tools to address it, there is nothing we can do."
Residents and city leaders from Marysville also came to express their support for this piece of legislature and told the committee troubling stories of established neighborhoods "destroyed" by group homes for sex offenders.
"We've always had a large number of sex offenders in Marysville and it's never been a problem, but this is a whole new phenomenon," said mayor Jon Nehring. "In one situation, we have 10 registered sex offenders living in one house. Businesses around it are closing, people are abandoning their homes. The neighborhood isn't thriving like it used to."
A Marysville resident commented that since a sex offender group home moved in to her neighborhood, her life has changed dramatically. She started noticing men wandering around the neighborhood, empty alcohol containers everywhere and strange cars picking up men and returning them at all hours of the day. She said that when she tried to move out of the area, she couldn't sell her house. Or rent it.
"The 'American dream' is being stolen from these residents, because of the unintended consequences of this [voucher program]," said Puyallup planning commissioner Steve Hastings.
The committee did not take any action on the bill, but could vote on it in the next few weeks.
The companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 5105 sponsored by Sen. Bruce Dammeier, will be heard in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. in the Cherberg Building in Olympia, hearing room 1.
Do you think changing voucher laws at the state level will help cities like Puyallup control sex offender housing? Tell us in the comments.