As cutoff looms 35th District lawmakers vow to keep up fight for moratorium on sexually violent predator homes in communities

Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn and seatmate, Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, have introduced a bill that would place a moratorium on the state’s plans to release sexually violent predators (SVPs) into low security homes in residential communities across Washington state.

House Bill 1813 would only allow the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to house civilly committed sex predators in secure facilities on McNeil Island or one Secure Transition Facility in South Seattle. The bill would also restrict the state from utilizing any new facilities.

“This is a dangerous practice that leaves children and families at risk. Families – and law enforcement – are only finding out about these placements at the last minute with virtually no chance to have a say. The existing policy is unworkable,” said Griffey. “It is time the state of Washington prioritizes the public’s safety.”

“This would immediately end this dangerous, misguided plan to house sex predators in reach of schools, parks, and recreational areas,” said Couture. “This bill would force our state government to do its fundamental job of protecting innocent people from high-risk sex offenders and give us time to develop a reasonable, long-term plan.”

SVPs are not imprisoned in these facilities; rather, they are committed to a rehabilitation program since they have been deemed very likely to reoffend.

“People are rightfully outraged about the lack of security in these private facilities,” said Couture.

A level two sex offender absconded from a different Supreme Living Facility in Thurston County in Dec. 2021, according to a recent Fox 13 news report.

In a recent DSHS sponsored event in Enumclaw, a King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) leader stated that it was parents’ job to teach their kids about and keep them safe from these sex offenders.

“We should not have to be explaining to our kids why our government is placing the most sexually violent predators in our state into unsecure facilities in our communities,” said Couture. “If this is not happening in your community yet, it will be. It is just a matter of time.

“These unreal and tone-deaf comments from the very government funded organization tasked with advocating for victims of sexual violence are unacceptable,” added Couture. “This ‘safety plan’ is like teaching your kids how to swim and then having the state drop sharks into the pool.”

Couture is also sponsoring House Bill 1734 to close the public notice loophole in the process of placing SVPs into less restrictive alternative (LRA) housing.

A similar effort is underway in the Senate where Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, is sponsoring Senate Bill 5544, a bi-partisan bill with Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, to close the public notice loophole.

“We need an immediate moratorium on LRA homes until the Legislature can come up with a comprehensive long-term plan that protects our communities from these violent sexual predators,” said MacEwen.

The issue expands beyond Thurston County as more counties and cities learn LRA homes for SVPs are planned in their neighborhoods under the state’s “fair share” statute, which was created when state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5163 in 2021 to ensure SVPs were being placed in their county of commitment in an effort to stop the disproportionate release of SVPs into one or two counties. 

With the 1990 Community Protection Act, Washington became the first state in the nation to enact a civil commitment law for SVPs.

SVPs are defined as someone deemed by an expert to suffer from a “mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes the person likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence” if released into the community.

The law allows prosecutors to petition the court to block the prison release of a sex offender who has served their sentence and meets the criteria of an SVP and have them diverted to civil commitment for treatment at McNeil Island indefinitely if it can be proven at trial that they meet the standard. SVPs are considered the most likely to reoffend.

Senate Bill 5163 required annual verification that civilly committed SVPs still met the criteria. It also allowed for SVPs to petition for conditional and unconditional release into LRAs in communities. But the bill left loopholes in the public notice process creating the situation seen today – neighborhoods caught off guard when they learn at the last minute that homes for SVPs are planned or being planned in their communities under the “fair share” rule, including Tenino, Enumclaw, Kent, and Snohomish County.

“Residential communities are getting blindsided,” said Couture. “What most people want is to place sexually violent predators subject to civil commitment on McNeil Island. The state should be prepared to bear the costs of McNeil Island so families in our state can sleep safe at night.”

Couture and Griffey collaborated on House Bill 1813 because they do not believe it is enough to just close the public notice loophole.

In addition to the moratorium, House Bill 1813:

  • Creates a work group focused on improvements that promote public safety and community input to provide recommendations on the siting of secure community transition facilities, with a report due by June 30, 2024.
  • Contains an emergency clause so the moratorium goes into effect immediately upon passage.

“I have spent my time in the Legislature fighting for survivors of sexual assault, including my own family,” said Griffey. “The fact that this is the policy we have on the books in Washington state in 2023 is an embarrassment and a threat to all families regardless of what your politics are.”

Couture says Gov. Inlsee and his staff have expressed interest in assisting with the issue. So, he and Griffey hoped to get a committee hearing before policy cut off at the end of this week.

However, the governor and his staff have yet to weigh in prior to the looming cut-off.

Couture and Griffey say even if they do not get a committee vote in time for policy cut-off at the end of this week, they plan to keep pushing the issue and the legislation and encourage anyone who wants to see the law changed to reach out to:

The House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee

The Senate Human Services Committee

Gov. Inslee’s Office

Background: In January, Tenino residents, local officials, and legislators were caught by surprise upon learning of a state plan to house sexually violent predators in a Tenino-area residential home run by a private company, with the first occupant scheduled to arrive on Feb. 1. Thurston County officials were able to delay the plan citing the facility’s lack of necessary water permits.

In the News

Hear Rep. Griffey and Rep. Couture discuss the bills on KIRO Radio here  

Q13 Report – End SVP releases into our communities

###

Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov