Bill limiting sex offenders at shelters expected to get hearing

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The Senate version of Rep. Robert Lancia’s sex offender bill is expected to be heard by the Judiciary Committee this week or next, according to member and sponsor, Sen. Frank Lombardi.

Lancia’s House bill, which received support from Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello early in the spring, passed 59-8 in May. Almost two months later, Lancia is urging swift action to get the Senate companion, sponsored by Cranston Democratic Senators Lombardi and Hanna Gallo passed.

“I would welcome it to be heard and ultimately passed,” Lancia (R, District 16 – Cranston) said Monday when told the Senate version would be heard soon. “My concern is I wish we had done this sooner. My biggest fear is it gets lost in the process. This has to pass. We have to protect our kids. I appreciate the bipartisan effort and I hope we get this done.”

Lancia’s original version of the bill would have limited all state-funded facilities, with some exceptions, to a 10 percent cap on sex offenders. The focal point of the legislation is Harrington Hall, which in April housed more than 30 Level II or III sex offenders.

After holding some forums at local elementary schools, including one at Glen Hills that Mattiello attended, the bill was amended to include a requirement that an additional facility would be opened by Jan. 1, 2018, to house offenders. That detail helped create bipartisan support.

“They [the state] need to create additional facilities,” Lancia said. “I’m a former Navy chaplain, I’m a disabled veteran, I have a heart. The goal isn’t to throw them out on the streets. It’s to bring everybody to the table to find a solution to the problem. This has been going on for years and it forces them to do something.”

Lombardi said he understood the importance of the legislation, as he has a bill concerning Harrington Hall as well. The Senate bill, which is currently being held for further study, would require the shelter of last resort to notify Cranston Police of any new residents by midnight of the day they arrive.

Lancia said he does not foresee any partisan issues with the bill, but did note the ACLU could have “concerns.”

“That’s really the only pushback I see,” Lombardi said. “As far as the entirety of the neighborhood itself, it’s in favor it. We’re talking about the public safety of our children and the residents of the area. The ACLU will say in conjunction with the 1,000-foot rule [away from schools], Harrington Hall bill and this together is tantamount to not allowing them to live in Cranston.

“Concerns of the kids and public safety of children far outweighs the inconvenience of any registered sex offender.”

Sen. Gallo said that there needs to be a “better solution” to the issue. She noted there are obstacles to finding and opening a suitable shelter somewhere else.

“There needs to be something up and running sooner than later,” Gallo said, adding that there is a need for more programs at shelters as well. “I’ve been dealing with this issue for years upon years. It’s hard because nobody really wants them in their backyard. Because of previous legislation that we’ve had, there are so many places they need to not be near it makes it difficult as to where they can actually be.”

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