'Crappy legislation' says Louisville critic of state gang bill

The Kentucky State Capitol (Source: Dale Mader/WAVE 3 News)
The Kentucky State Capitol (Source: Dale Mader/WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Mar. 27, 2018 at 6:54 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - A move to make gang recruiting a felony ran up against emotional testimony Tuesday at the state capitol.

Supporters of the Gang Violence Prevention Act claim the legislation will give law enforcement another tool to get dangerous criminals off the street.

Prosecutors would be allowed to seek added prison time for someone committing crimes as a gang member.

Bill sponsor, Representative Robert Benvenuti (R) of Lexington said the bill targets only "individuals who choose to operate within a gang, in furtherance of a gang, to wreak havoc in our communities."

"And this bill focus is very sharply on those folks in our society who have determined to prey on others," Benvenuti said.

Critics argued the bill is overly broad, and has the potential to increase incarceration rates while failing to provide support or intervention to keep kids out of gangs.

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"You've got to be able to invest with some real economic opportunity," Sadiqa Reynolds, Louisville Urban League President said.  "Not this crappy legislation that just imprisons people who are poor and made bad choices sometimes,"

The bill easily passed a Senate committee after an all-white panel testified in support of the legislation.

"You're talking about making misdemeanor shoplifting offenses, elevating something like that to a class C felony," Reynolds said.  "We're talking about vandalism being elevated to a felony offense."

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Bill sponsor Benvenuti said people affected by gang violence would be fearful of speaking publicly.

"Do you really expect someone, regardless of their color, to come and say my son was recruited into a gang and I want this bill? Of course not," Benvenuti said.

"Let's be honest," Reynolds said.  "There's not enough diversity in any of these rooms. Not in corporate America, not here in Frankfort, not in these legislative committees, nowhere."

The measure was amended and sent back to the house where it already passed easily earlier in the session.

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