State Rep. Robert Lancia has set dates for constituent forums to discuss legislation regarding sex offender registration and limits at three elementary schools in District 16 next week.
The first forum would be Saturday at 3 p.m. at Glen Hills Elementary. Garden City Elementary would host one the next day at 2 p.m. and the last would be at Daniel D. Waterman Elementary on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
The meetings are aimed at driving home Rep. Lancia’s point behind bill introduced at the House and Senate. The first, House Bill 5207, would require any homeless shelter to notify police of the presence of a sex offender within one hour. Reps. Charlene Lima, Robert Jacquard, Raymond Hull and Jared Nunes are co-sponsors.
The second, House Bill 5159, which has a companion bill in the Senate, would reduce the number of sex offenders to 10 percent across all “residential facilities receiving state funding or assistance, with certain exceptions” as well. Harrington Hall in Cranston would fall under that umbrella. Reps. Lima, Joe Solomon, Jacquard and Mike Chippendale co-sponsored the bill.
“The fact that [sex offenders] are let out at 7 a.m. and they can’t come back till 5 in the afternoon, you’re talking 30 sex offenders, many of them Level II or Level III,” Rep. Lancia said of Harrington Hall, which is known as a shelter of last resort. “Imagine during the summer when there’s no school and the kids are out there playing and these people are being let go.”
Level I offenders are considered “low risk,” according to the Rhode Island Parole Board and Sex Offender Community Notification Unit. Level II offenders are “moderate risk,” while Level III is “high risk.”
All five schools in Lancia’s district are within 3.1 miles of Harrington Hall, which is located on 30 Howard Ave. Glen Hills, the location of that first forum, is the closest as at 1.3 miles away. That equates roughly to a 30-minute walk.
Garden City, Waterman, Cranston West and Western Hills are all between two and just more than three miles away.
Law dictates that sex offenders keep a 1,000-foot distance from any school.
“There’s no controls,” Rep. Lancia said. “So I’m at least trying to introduce some controls until we come up with a long-term solution.”
According to the Rhode Island Alliance for Safe Communities, Harrington Hall is one of the state’s many examples of clustering. Clustering is when two or more sex offenders of Level II or III live at the same location. As of Monday, according to the Sex Offender Community Notification Unit’s website, there are 35 offenders who list 30 Howard Ave. or Harrington Hall as their address.
Overall, there are 68 Level II or III non-incarcerated offenders with an address listed in Cranston.
The Cranston City Council came out in support of the legislation at February’s meeting. The Council passed resolutions urging the General Assembly to pass the bills, but Council Vice President Michael Favicchio expressed doubts that the 10 percent rule would pass.
“They are a little concerned about the quota system because Harrington is a shelter of last resort, so they really can’t refuse someone,” said Favicchio, who has met with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and other legislators on the topic. “If somebody comes in at 9 o’clock at night and you’ve already got eight out of 80 beds, what are you going to do? You can’t send somebody out in the cold. I think that bill is going to have some difficulty.”
Favicchio added that he believes the registration bill would pass.
Mayor Allan W. Fung unequivocally voiced his support of House Bill 5159. Fung wrote a letter on March 22 to House Judiciary Committee Chairperson Cale Keable, noting that Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s administration assured the city that no more than five sex offenders would reside at Harrington Hall at a time.
“The current governor and her administration has broken that promise and willfully ignored the impact on the residents of Cranston,” Fung wrote. “This legislation would significantly reduce the total number of sex offenders listing the overnight homeless shelter as their permanent address to a more reasonable number.
Rep. Lancia said that he would like to see the legislation, for which he testified on March 17, passed through “sooner than later.”
“General Assembly has a tendency not to do much at the beginning of the session, then it speeds up and gets busy in June,” Rep. Lancia said. “[President] Steven Brown of the [Rhode Island] ACLU said this issue is being driven by emotion. It will take one incident, one child and then it’s too late. And then you’ll want to talk about emotion. I’m trying to be proactive.”
The Herald placed a call to Brown’s office, but it was not returned for comment.