OLYMPIA – Local governments would be able to avoid some state environmental rules to set up temporary homeless “camps” in emergency situations, under a bill approved by the Senate.
In a bipartisan vote that featured opposition from some conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, the Senate passed a proposal that would let cities and counties set up a temporary shelter or transitional encampment for the homeless if it has no more than 200 beds and will be on the site for no more than three years. The shelters can be tents, modular structures or vehicles and have common food preparation and shower facilities.
One amendment added during the debate requires that the facility not allow alcohol or drugs, except medicine prescribed by a physician, to qualify for the exemption. Another said it can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school or an early learning facility. A third requires the city or county to declare a state of emergency on homelessness.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, a frequent critic of restrictions in the environmental policy act, objected to exempting any homeless camps from the public notice requirements in the act, saying residents have a right to know about those plans and present objections.
“People are going to wake up one day and find out the field next door has been turned into a homeless camp,” he said. “Is that fair?”
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she’s probably never been swayed by an Ericksen speech before, but was in this case. “I’m convinced we don’t have the neighborhood notifications properly in place.”
But others said the proposal had been improved in a bipartisan manner and sent it to the House on a 35-12 vote.
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