Residents in the city of Enumclaw are outraged after learning that the state is placing unsupervised sex offenders in their community.
As part of legislation that was approved in 2021, local jurisdictions have to provide what is called “less restrictive alternative” or LRA housing to accommodate offenders where they were originally convicted.
State Sen. Phil Fortunato is concerned that the process of communicating the releases, siting these group homes, and overall deinstitutionalizing of sex offenders with a high likelihood to reoffend is putting communities at risk.
“The situation is unacceptable and part of a pattern from some in Olympia that want to treat hardened criminals with kid gloves,” said Fortunato. “We’re seeing that with the police pursuit debate, and now with the quiet release of predators into neighborhoods. Just look at what the state is doing in Lynnwood against the residents’ wishes with the drug rehab near a Boys and Girls Club.”
Fortunato is introducing legislation, Senate Bill 5729, that would restrict where LRAs can be located. Currently, they are allowed within 500 feet of a school. Under his proposal, they could not be located within two miles. In addition, the proposal would require the Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees the program and offenders, to provide notices rather than law enforcement. Two other provisions include required notification of elected officials, as Fortunato says he learned about the problem directly from constituents.
In an email, DSHS officials indicated they extended an offer to meet with legislators more than two months after notifying law enforcement of the release and a month after the offender moved into the unsupervised Enumclaw house.
“I get that DSHS is following the law. That’s not in question. What I’m trying to fix is a bad law that is letting high-risk sex offenders live unsupervised in unsecured facilities in our communities, near kids. It’s absurd,” Fortunato said.
With just under 10 days for bills to receive public input and be approved by the policy committees where they originally were assigned, Fortunato is hopeful that the groundswell of opposition to the sex offender placement practices in Enumclaw and recently in Tenino, will spur Democratic majorities to fix the problem fast.
“This is not a controversial or partisan issue,” Fortunato added. “Public safety is a priority and committee chairs can get this done easily to keep our communities safe. Let’s get this bill heard and voted on.”