Lawmakers pass sex offender bill, but need more votes to override veto

12/21/2010 5:58 PM |

The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday voted 11-7 to authorize the county’s Department of Social Services to enter into agreement with a company that would operate small shelters for homeless sex offenders at locations throughout the county.

The move is viewed as an alternative to the current policy of housing all of Suffolk’s homeless sex offenders receiving DSS assistance in trailers in Riverside and Westhampton Beach.

But the Legislature’s meeting in Hauppauge wasn’t even over when it became clear that County Executive Steve Levy would seek to kill the measure.

“We will veto,” said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Levy. “Mr. Lindsay’s concept of creating undisclosed sites for housing homeless sex offenders will undoubtedly wind up in court, leading to no real resolution for months if not for years,” he said, referring to Bill Lindsay, the legislature’s presiding officer.

Mr. Levy has made it known that he favors the voucher system as a way to house homeless sex offenders. Under that system, the sex offenders each receive vouchers for up to $90 per night, which they can use to find their own housing and food.

“The voucher system solves this housing problem immediately,” Mr. Smith said.

Assuming Mr. Levy’s veto comes as promised, the Legislature would then attempt to hold another votes and possibly override the veto with 12 votes. The Legislature needs 12 votes to do that But it may only have 10 so far, since one of the legislators who voted in favor of the shelter plan Tuesday was Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham), who was elected to the state Assembly last month. He will be gone before any such vote took place.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because a similar back-and-forth already happened before.

Over the summer, DSS had begun phasing out the trailers, one of which is located in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside, and moving toward the voucher system. But western Suffolk legislators opposed the voucher system and the Legislature approved a resolution banning DSS from using it.

Mr. Levy vetoed that approval, but his veto was overridden by a 13-5 vote of the Legislature in June.

Likewise, the Legislature twice approved measures to begin crafting the system that was called for by Tuesday’s vote, and twice those approvals were vetoed by Mr. Levy. The Legislature overrode both vetoes.

The more recent proposal established an Oct. 15 deadline by which to begin the new program. But DSS claimed it needed a vote from the Legislature to award a contract for the service, while some legislators argued that DSS could sign the contract without further legislative approval.

Oct. 15 came and went, and the sex offenders were still in the trailers.

The resolution approved Tuesday would award a contract to Community Housing Innovations, which would operate the shelters. The resolution calls for the sex offenders to be housed in small shelters scattered throughout Suffolk. Each site could host no more than six offenders. In addition, the shelters could not be located in residential areas, and cooking facilities, bathrooms, showers, security, and counseling would have to be provided in each, according to County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who sponsored the bill and whose district includes Riverhead.

The bill that was approved Tuesday was scheduled to be voted on at the Legislature’s Dec. 7 meeting, but that vote was delayed because officials were told that since CHI’s was the only bid received, the measure needed 12 votes from the 18 member legislature, Mr. Romaine said. At the time, he wasn’t sure he had enough votes.

This week, however, an aide to Mr. Romaine said lawmakers no longer believe the extra two votes were necessary — and the 11 would serve just fine since it was not a formal bid, but just a request for proposals. But of course, 12 votes would be needed to override a veto.

tgannon@timesreview.com