The Puyallup City Council moved Tuesday night to permanently prohibit halfway houses for sex offenders from opening in residential neighborhoods, even as state legislators work on a parallel track to impose limits on sex offender housing.
In a 6-0 vote, the Puyallup council passed an ordinance that bars sex offenders and violent felons from living together in a residential area. They could live under one roof in and around Puyallups central business district if the property owner jumps through a regulatory hurdle.
The ordinance still must come back for final approval, and council members are weighing whether to remove violent felons from the proposed zoning regulations to increase its chances to survive any potential legal challenge.
"The mood of the court is not going to allow us to do what we like to do. .. If we use our tools and not beat our own cause, we have a chance to succeed," Councilman John Knutsen said.
A temporary moratorium barring shared housing for sex offenders and violent felons is still in effect as the council mulls permanent regulations. That vote in August came after residents raised concerns about the owner of a residence in the 2300 block of Shaw Road possibly housing veterans there. He acknowledged some tenants could be newly released prisoners, including sex offenders.
Property owner Larry Parson has said critics have turned his project to offer low-cost housing for disadvantaged veterans into something unrecognizable. He didnt rule out that recent prison inmates would live at his house but said thats not a guarantee either.
State law regulates where sex offenders can live, such as limiting their proximity to schools, but it bars cities and towns from imposing stricter rules
Puyallup officials have pledged to test those boundaries. Before it extended the moratorium two weeks ago, council members expressed a willingness to go to court to defend an ordinance they feel is needed to safeguard residents.
Mayor Rick Hansen said Tuesday theres no rush to adopt an ordinance because the moratorium is in place until August. He expressed a desire to work with Puyallup residents to finalize rules that are strongly enforceable and allow the city "to break this new ground.
We might have to shrink it a little bit to enable us to enforce it, he said.
The ordinance as it stands now would allow two or more sex offenders and violent offenders to live together in the citys central business area, but only if a property owner secures a conditional use permit.
It also would require that so-called "significant impact businesses" secure a new type of license. These businesses consist of airports, hazardous waste sites, fireworks plants and shared housing for two or more sex offenders and violent felons.
The ordinance would give the city the authority to impose conditions on these businesses that are reasonable but otherwise unspecified. Conditions could include requirements to carry insurance or reimburse the city for costs of service.
Council members agreed they want the business license required for shared housing for both sex offenders and violent felons.
City regulations currently allow up to six unrelated individuals to live together; they place no additional rules on dwellings for sex offender and violent felons.
Meanwhile, local state lawmakers have proposed bills in Olympia to add conditions before the state Department of Corrections can issue rental vouchers used by registered sex offenders released from prison. The agency provides vouchers to inmates that are good for up to three months if they move from prison to community supervision under an approved release plan.
The legislation, Senate Bill 5105 and companion House Bill 1232, would require DOC to give local governments 30 days of notice before issuing a rental voucher. It also would mandate a city inspection of the dwelling, among other requirements.
But the bills have different conditions. For example, the House version would limit to three, with some exceptions, the number of sex offenders who could live under one roof; the Senate legislation caps the number of beds at eight.
Both bills received committee hearings last week. Supporters say the legislation prevents landlords from abusing the voucher system, while critics say it jeopardizes stable housing for offenders that is necessary for them to return to society.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390