Anti-gang legislation discussed in Olympia

BROADCAST MEDIA: View b-roll footage of the committee hearing here.

Leaders from Yakima testified today before the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee regarding the state attorney general's proposal to address the plague of gangs in Washington.

House Bill 1126, sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, would:

  • create a grant program for gang prevention and intervention;
  • enhance sentencing for criminal gang behavior;
  • authorize action to address a pattern of gang-related activity within properties or buildings; and
  • authorize protection orders by local authorities against an identified gang member.Rep. Charles Ross

“The Yakima Valley communities I represent are sick of the violence, they are ready for their Legislature to take action right now,” Ross said. “I'm going to work hard to make the case for this legislation so government can serve its duty – protecting the public.”

Some of those who testified were concerned racial profiling may increase if the legislation is passed. The claims made by e-mails from the ACLU to several legislators are false, according to Ross.

Prosecuting Attorney Troy Clements“The goal of this legislation is to specifically target those who are proven gang members – regardless of race, class or clothing – who have committed crimes and belong to a proven criminal street gang,” Ross said. “A member of a gang is not identified by their looks, but by their record and proven actions.”

Traveling from Yakima to testify in favor of the legislation were Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey, Sheriff Ken Irwin, Police Gang Unit Sergeant Eric Hildebrand and Prosecuting Attorney Troy Clements.

All said the legislation would create a very high standard for proving a person is a gang member before he or she can be served with a protection order.

Prosecutors have told Ross that the law needs to keep up with savvy gang members who are doing everything they can to avert criminal justice. In addition, they stressed that law enforcement needs a chance to be proactive, and not just be reactive to criminal gang activity.

Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, also attended the hearing.

Sergeant Eric Hildebrand (left) testifies after Sheriff Ken Irwin (right)Testimony was also given concerning the lack of funding for prevention or intervention. The grant program outlined in the bill would request federal funding, but no state funding, to assist local governments.

“Communities in my district have already taken action to fund several prevention and intervention strategies. While funding is an important part of the equation in the solution to the gang problem, there are things we can do now during these tight fiscal times to protect victims and community members,” Ross said.

The estimated cost of the sentencing enhancements is less than $330,000 for the 2011-13 budget. Ross said he hopes to offset this cost with another bill he's sponsoring, which would limit open records penalties for inmates.

“Right now, in this fiscal climate, if you propose spending money, you have to find a way to counteract that cost,” Ross said. “However, I also believe taking criminal gang members off our streets saves money in other costs to businesses and local governments.”

The anti-gang bill now awaits a vote by the committee before it can reach a vote of the full House.

Contact: Sarah Lamb, public information officer, (360) 786-7720

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Washington State House Republican Communications
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