Will vote Thursday mark the end of sex offender trailers?

09/16/2010 12:00 AM |

The county Legislature is expected to vote today on overriding a county executive veto of a bill that would set an Oct. 15 deadline for the county to come up with a better plan on dealing with homeless sex offenders.

The offenders are currently housed in two trailers on the East End.

The Legislature is meeting today, Thursday, in Hauppauge, and North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and his South Fork counterpart, Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), are preparing to override Mr. Levy’s veto.

“This will end the trailers, which is what we’re looking to do,” said Mr. Romaine, referring to the county’s practice of housing all its homeless sex offenders who receive county services in the trailers in Riverside and Westhampton.

East End residents and officials have been calling for some time for an end to the trailer system, claiming it’s unfair. But so far, no changes have come about.

Mr. Levy has actually vetoed two bills pertaining to homeless sex offenders, but the county Legislature overrode the first veto. That bill, introduced by presiding officer Bill Lindsay (D-Sayville), directed the county’s Department of Social Services to end a practice of giving vouchers to sex offenders, and to develop a new program to provide them emergency housing. It allowed no more than one shelter in any town or legislative district, and no more than six sex offenders in any one shelter. Those shelters would be supervised.

Mr. Lindsay’s bill was approved by the Legislature May 11 by a 14-4 vote, but was vetoed by Mr. Levy on May 26. County legislators then overrode that veto by a 13-5 vote on June 8.

“By terminating the voucher system the moment this legislation takes effect, the DSS may be without the legal ability to provide this housing as mandated by the state,” Mr. Levy wrote in his veto message. “These individuals would be without shelter, creating a greater danger to themselves and others.” He said the voucher system, which provides daily stipends for food and lodging, has worked in other areas without problems, and that voiding the voucher program would make it harder to close the trailers because there would be no guarantee that alternative sites would be available.

A second bill, introduced by Mr. Schneiderman, added an Oct. 15 deadline by which the county had to come up with the plan called for in Mr. Lindsay’s initial bill. That bill was approved by the Legislature Aug. 3 by a 10-8 vote, but vetoed by Mr. Levy on Aug. 19.

The county executive said in his second veto message that only one shelter proposal was received, and that “by signing this resolution, I would be giving credence to the ill-advised policy … that voided the voucher system, which was the only realistic way we could be able to quickly phase out use of trailers on the East End.”

That veto will be subject to an override vote at Thursday’s meeting of the Legislature. Twelve votes are needed to override the veto.

“I am committed to overriding this veto,” Mr. Romaine said Friday. “Mr. Levy wants to rely on vouchers. In my mind, vouchers are better than the trailers, but vouchers are not the optimum solution. There are far better solutions than vouchers, where we just give them money and they go to a motel, no one knows they’re there and there are no reporting requirements.”

Mr. Romaine believes a shelter, where the sex offenders would be monitored and would receive psychological and job counseling, “is a better solution than letting these guys just wander the streets.”

The shelter would be required to have food and cooking done on premises so the sex offenders could eat there instead of going out into the community looking for food, and it would have to have running water, which the Riverside and Westhampton trailers lack.

“Will it be expensive? Yes,” Mr. Romaine said. “Will it be less expensive than the trailers? Yes. Will it ensure better safety and better distribution of sex offenders? Yes.”

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