When Julie Door learned that Senate Bill 5105 passed unanimously in the Senate, she was very excited.
“I was jumping up and down and started to cry,” Door said of the 49-0 vote.
SB 5105, sponsored by Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, outlines more stringent conditions that the state Department of Corrections must adhere to when it issues housing vouchers to offenders. The vouchers are earned based on good behavior.
Door, a Puyallup resident, is one of several people who live in the Shaw Road neighborhood who expressed concern to the Puyallup City Council last summer regarding a proposed halfway house in the 2300 block of Shaw Road that could house veterans and newly released prisoners, including sex offenders.
In January, the Puyallup City Council voted unanimously to extend its moratorium on halfway houses while it waits for help from the state level to better define stricter regulations on shared housing for sex offenders and violent felons.
Since January, Door has been part of an effort to mobilize concerned residents and city leaders to communicate with state legislators both in letters and visits to Olympia.
Door said the win in the Senate “felt like the first measurable step” of success.
“My focus with this bill is on all communities,” she said. “There are homes that are operating appropriately, but, like anything, there are those who abuse the system. The voucher program hasn’t been used like it was intended. Like any good policy, it needs to be reviewed.”
Door said the bill sets up offenders for successful re-entry into society and it ensures the community has the best chance at safety.
Dammeier said it’s a win-win for offenders and communities.
“The biggest thing that the bill does is requires much closer coordination between the Department of Corrections and local cities and communities when citing and determining where an offender home will be located,” Dammeier said.
He added that the bill ensures a proposed house will be in a successful location.
“The house on Shaw Road was a great example of where it would not be successful,” Dammeier said. “Finding the right community is really important.”
Dammeier said the bill also requires at least 30 days’ notification from the Department of Corrections to a local government prior to locating offenders who receive a housing voucher.
The bill also gives more power to municipalities to request the Department of Corrections to remove an offender housing unit from the approved list if it’s not working in the community.
Under the bill, Department of Corrections also will be required to conduct a community impact statement before it approves a house.
“They have to really think it through, so these houses don’t just pop up,” Dammeier said.
Dammeier said the bill had strong bipartisan support in the Senate.
“That puts us in a good position to get support in the House,” Dammeier said. “I am cautiously optimistic. It means we need to watch it every step of the way and make sure it passes.”
House Bill 1232, with similar intent, did not receive a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee. SB 5105 has been referred to the House Public Safety Committee for a hearing today at 1:30 p.m.
State Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, who co-sponsored the House bill, said he is proud of the effort from Door and others.
“She and the rest of the Shaw Road neighborhood activists are an example of what citizen leaders can do,” Zeiger said.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.