Johnson, Ross disappointed criminal gang measure killed as final bill deadline passes

A measure that would have given citizens and law enforcement another means to fight criminal gang activity was systematically dismantled in the Senate and finally became a victim of politics, dying as a legislative deadline passed Friday, said its prime sponsor, Rep. Norm Johnson.

“A few Democrat leaders in the Senate killed the bill, and now we’re going to have to wait another year to provide this essential tool to curb the activities of criminal gangs plaguing our communities,” said Johnson, R-Yakima. “Meantime, gang violence will continue as neighbors find themselves helpless to do much about it. Sadly, this is an unfortunate missed opportunity because a select few Seattle-centric senators intentionally stopped this bill.”

As originally introduced, House Bill 2414 would have classified criminal gang activity as a nuisance and provide a process for neighbors or anyone within a one-block radius to file legal action to stop that activity. When the measure came to the House floor, Johnson and his seatmate, Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, successfully merged House Bill 2550 to Johnson’s measure. HB 2550, which was prime-sponsored by Ross, would have authorized counties to adopt nuisance procedures for gang injunctions, restraining orders and other action to reduce criminal gang activities. The 14th District lawmakers said the addition of Ross’ language onto Johnson’s bill made the legislation even stronger against gangs.

However, the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee stripped Ross’ language from the measure, approved the revised bill and sent it to Senate Rules.

“As it came out of the Senate committee, they removed the civil injunction portion of the bill and, because some senators were concerned the measure might involve racial profiling, a few other important components were removed as well. I was very hopeful that we could have added Representative Ross’ language when the measure came up for a vote on the Senate floor,” said Johnson, “making it whole again and a much better piece of legislation.”

However, the bill never got that far.

“A couple of uninformed senators mistakenly thought this legislation would allow seizure of a parent’s home who didn’t know that the child living with them is involved in criminal gangs. I’m sorry, but parents ought to be involved enough with their children to know whether they are gang members,” said Johnson. “They also felt it still involved racial profiling, which is nonsense. So instead of working with me to address those concerns, they stopped the bill and it died during the final legislative deadline of Friday at 5 p.m.”

“Yet again, we are subject to another failure from the Legislature due to political fear, while the people of our district are living in real fear,” said Ross.

“I’m extremely disappointed. We started the session with several very good bills that would have made a positive impact against the infiltration of criminal gangs in our communities. Victims of Yakima-area gangs poured into the committee rooms in Olympia, telling heart-wrenching stories of how they live in fear as bullets fly through the night. We worked for strong legislation that was sent to the Senate, and with the support of law enforcement, the bill passed committee and was awaiting action by the full Senate before it was blocked,” Johnson added. “This was a bipartisan measure that passed the House with 90 Republican and Democrats voting in favor. There’s no good reason why it should not be heading to the governor’s desk for a signature, other than politics. That’s what killed this bill.”

Johnson said he plans to reintroduce the legislation next year and make passage his primary focus.

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Washington State House Republican Communications