Gov. Inslee vetoes community notice for sexually violent predator relocation

May 17, 2023, 8:05 PM | Updated: May 19, 2023, 1:30 pm

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Washington Governor Jay Inslee (Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

(Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Governor Jay Inslee has vetoed part of a bill that would have required communities to receive advance notice if a sexually violent predator is relocated there.

The governor issued line-item vetoes on Wednesday afternoon for parts of Senate Bill 5187, which establishes this year’s operating budget.

One of the sections that was vetoed addresses community notification with regard to sexually violent predators being placed in Less Restrictive Housing Alternatives (LRA) by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The proviso would have established a pilot program that would run until 2025.

Why sexually violent predators are being housed in local communities

“The department must provide notice and opportunity to comment to any community in which the department intends to propose placement of a sexually violent predator,” read the section of the bill before the veto. It also stated the DSHS must consult with federally-recognized Indian tribes before proposing the placement of a sex offender there, and consider the distance of any LRA from the boundaries of any reservation.

In a letter to the Legislature, Inslee said those conditions are “administratively burdensome for the Department of Social and Health Services Special Commitment Center program when siting Less Restrictive Alternatives in communities throughout the state.”

The governor said it will likely result in the delay and availability of placement options for individuals ordered by a court to be moved out of the McNeil Island facility.

Those who are deemed “sexually violent predators” in Washington state can be civilly committed to a total confinement facility on McNeil Island in Pierce County. But they cannot be held there indefinitely. The due process clause of the United States Constitution ensures sexually violent predators under civil commitment can — and must — be released if it is shown that they are no longer mentally ill or dangerous.

In response to the governor’s line-item veto on Wednesday, House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary, (R-Auburn) and Caucus Vice Chair Eric Robertson (R-Sumner) released a statement blasting the removal of community notification requirements.

“It is unconscionable that DSHS isn’t already doing this, considering the public safety implications of placing sexually violent predators in established neighborhoods, often near school bus stops and other community amenities,” their statement read.

Currently, there is no state law mandating that DSHS has to notify individual communities when a sex offender moves in nearby. But demand for it was reignited after a series of high-profile planned placements in the communities of Tenino and Enumclaw. In the Thurston County city of Tenino, five Level 3 sex offenders were set to move into a five-bedroom farmhouse run by private provider Supreme Living LLC. That facility, which was set to open Feb. 1, did not move forward.

In Enumclaw, some residents and local leaders say they were not given advance notice when a sexually violent predator, Stevan Knapp, was relocated there in mid-January. Both instances sparked a series of public meetings highlighting frustrations over what some called a “lack of transparency” from the state.

Enumclaw, Tenino residents concerned over sex offender housing

DSHS spokesperson Tyler Hemstreet told KIRO Newsradio in February that the department is just following state law as it is currently written. “DSHS is required to inform the sheriff’s department that a sex offender is moving into the county, but they’re not required to tell them that an LRA is being opened or operated in a particular area.” Additionally, the sheriff’s office in each county decides if — and subsequently how — to notify the community when a sexually violent predator is relocated there.

“We will continue fighting to keep sexually violent predators from being placed in Enumclaw or any other neighborhood across the state without notice, collaboration, and meaningful participation from local officials, Tribal governments, and community members,” Stokebury and Robertson’s joint statement continued. “This veto is not the end. It is just the beginning of our efforts to hold DSHS and the governor accountable for their mismanagement of this issue.”

The Department of Corrections (DOC) currently supervises 85-86 (numbers vary between DOC and DSHS) sexually violent predators living in 26 community-based LRAs and four secure commitment transfer facilities across King, Pierce, Spokane, Walla Walla, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties.

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Gov. Inslee vetoes community notice for sexually violent predator relocation