House goes after gangs
The House of Delegates this morning approved a get-tough on gangs measure -- over the opposition of black and Hispanic delegates from the state's urban areas who worried it would be overreaching.
Delegates and prosecutors had been working on the bill for months, saying they had addressed some concerns of public defenders civil liberties groups. The compromise that emerged defines what a gang is and gives judges the ability -- but not the mandate -- to extend by up to a decade prison terms for members convicted of certain crimes.
Del. Ana-Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat, warned that the anti-gang measure is "bad public policy" because it is "criminalizing kids." Del. Aisha N. Braveboy, a Prince George's County Democrat, said the bill "brings in people who may or may not be associated with a crime."
But the sponsor of the bill, Del. Gerron S. Levi, a Prince George's Democrat, called those concerns baseless.
"It does not punish 'association,'" Levi said. She argued that the new statute is detailed in who can be subjected to the extended sentences, saying a person must be convicted of a crime, a proven gang member and either have killed someone or committed two gang-related offenses.
The debate now moves to the Senate, where Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has urged Democratic city Sen. Lisa Gladden, "to help guide the bill to a quick vote in the Senate." Gladden is vice-chairwoman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the gang bill has lingered. But she's also a public defender likely to oppose the new measure.