Two years ago, a state legislator asked the Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion about whether local governments could limit or outright prohibit people with disabilities leaving institutional settings from living in their communities. DRW and dozens of other organizations joined together to push back against this repugnant notion, submitting a letter on September 6, 2019 urging the Attorney General’s Office to find such restrictions unconstitutional and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We collectively asked the Attorney General’s Office to provide clear guidance that no legislative or local government actions that seek to exclude disabled Washingtonians from our communities are legally or morally tenable.
After a long wait, an answer has been given, and it is definitive in rejecting these discriminatory zoning limitations. In its July 27, 2021 opinion, the Attorney General’s Office smacked down the notion that there might be some legally permissible way to draft zoning or other local laws that would create categorical limits or exclusions of people with disabilities from certain communities in our state. The opinion tells law makers who may be curious as to whether they can block people coming to their towns from institutions that “[n]o statute permits a county or other local government to categorically prohibit the placement of a committed person. Any such prohibition by a local government would raise a number of statutory and constitutional issues….”AGO 2021 No. 4., p. 5.
Notably, some of the reasoning in the Attorney General’s Opinion relied on legislation that was passed in the 2021 session, SB 5163, which required the state’s secure treatment facility to engage in discharge planning and community placements for people leaving that institutional setting.