Suffolk lawmakers say they had insufficient data on sex offender shelters
Suffolk lawmakers said Friday that they lacked key information on available county shelter space before approving a plan to relocate about 40 homeless male sex offenders.
An emergency law passed Feb. 5 calls for no more than one offender to be placed at each shelter for single residents. Newsday reported Friday that the county has only four shelters for single men and six that house both males and females.
Three county legislators said Friday that the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone assured them before the vote that there would be enough shelters to comply with the law. The measure passed, 17-0, with one member absent.
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The legislators also said administration officials refused to disclose the number of existing shelters, citing state privacy laws.
"Clearly, somebody wasn't counting here," said Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset). "I basically figured that the county and the administration had the ability to do simple mathematics. I guess I was wrong about that."
Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said administration officials led him to believe there were more shelters for the offenders than exist.
"The plan seemed to be more of a plan when it was presented, and now it seems to be we're feeling our way through it," he said.
The emergency resolution was passed hours after it was brought to the Legislature by Bellone officials, said Kennedy and Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley).
Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne R. Horsley (D-Babylon) said he and others raised questions and were satisfied with the administration's responses.
"We always knew that there seemed to be a shortage of shelters, just from the numbers that we were hearing," he said. "They assured us that they had plans to move them out into the different shelters."
The lawmakers interviewed Friday said they still support the legislation, in part because it provides $2.7 million over three years to increase monitoring of about 1,000 registered sex offenders in Suffolk.
"I'm not going to fault them for trying to do the best that they can," Browning said.
No lawmaker at the Feb. 5 hearing asked specifically about whether there were enough shelters to house offenders.
Bellone administration officials say they expect federal courts to strike down a county law barring sex offenders from living within certain distances of schools, playgrounds and day care centers -- and that will give them more flexibility in finding homes for them. With possible appeals, a final decision could take months.
Bellone, who took office last year, had promised to close the trailers by January, but later proposed the emergency law, calling it an urgent public safety matter. With Paul LaRocco