Senate committee approves Johnson anti-gang bill

The Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee gave unanimous approval Thursday to a bill prime-sponsored by Rep. Norm Johnson that would classify criminal gang activity as a nuisance and provide a process for citizens to file legal action to stop that activity.

Several people from Yakima County who have been impacted by criminal gang activity attended the hearing, including Tammy Masters, whose 18-year-old son, Mo Adams, was fatally shot in 2008.

Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin said House Bill 2414 would provide another essential means of fighting criminal gang activity.

“Gang activity infects all races. Most gang houses are in poorer parts of town. If we don’t continue to fight their existence and find new tools to apply in certain situations, then who will?” he asked. “This will be a very good addition to the tools we need to fight this terrible problem of gangs across this state.”

Johnson noted that 25 victims were killed by gunshots in Yakima County last year, and many of those incidents were gang-related.

“The gang problem is rampant in our communities and it is not confined to the Yakima Valley. Stories in the newspapers show this is a statewide problem. Criminal gangs have not only infiltrated our communities, but they are recruiting children into a dead-end life of hate, drugs, guns, prison and death,” said Johnson, R-Yakima.

“This bill would allow folks who suspect gang activity in their neighborhoods to report that activity to the police. It gives police the authority to investigate the complaint. And it gives landlords the time to take action if there is indeed gang activity being conducted in their rentals,” added Johnson. “This measure is another brick in building a wall that I pray will eventually help to eliminate the problems of criminal gangs.”

Also testifying Thursday was Ron Newbry, who was representing the Washington Rental Housing Industry Coalition, which is made up of landlords throughout the state.

“Yakima and other communities throughout the state have faced frightening consequences as the result of criminal street gangs. Landlords want to assure tenants that they are provided with safe and comfortable accommodations, but tenants are often intimidated, terrified and bullied by gang perpetrators,” said Newbry. “One of the most important things to us is the notification provisions. If landlords are notified and we have a firm understanding and have the tools as well, we can begin the process of ridding the community of these unsavory situations.”

The measure has been sent to the Senate Rules Committee for further consideration.

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