Two years ago, the state Legislature punted the issue. Today, they fully embraced the idea.
Nursing home advocates like Wes Bledsoe wanted lawmakers to address the problem of registered sex offenders residing in long-term care facilities. The House Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing in 2005 where Bledsoe asked for the creation of a separate facility for sex offenders in need of care. But the idea ended as soon as the hearing adjourned.
This morning, Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, introduced a bill to create such a place, which passed out of committee with all yes votes.
"This is a proactive measure," Steele told the committee.
House Bill 2704 would begin the process of finding a facility. Steele said the intent is not to build a new facility, but allow private nursing home providers to bid for a state contract to house convicted sex offenders in need of long-term care. The contract would be awarded to a facility which could separate the sex-offender population from the rest of the clients and provide adequate security.
When pressed to provide statistics on how many sex offenders are living in nursing homes, Steele said the last count was at 30. But, he warned the committee that number could go up.
"The Department of Corrections has notified us that in the next 10 years more than 2,000 sex offenders will be coming out of the system that are over the age of 54," Steele said. "These crimes are not decreasing, but increasing."
Attending the hearing and applauding the committee's efforts was Bledsoe. After the vote, he was nearly in tears.
"The members heard what the consequences would be if they didn't act," Bledsoe said. "I'm so grateful."
The bill will head to the House floor for a full vote. -Scott Cooper