House bill which would increase penalties for gang recruitment passed by House A & R committee

03/13/2018 03:30 PM

FRANKFORT – A bill which would impose harsher penalties for adults who recruit individuals, including kids, for gangs has been passed by a House committee.

House Bill 169, sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would change Kentucky law by making it a felony to recruit gang members was passed by the House Standing Committee on Appropriations and Revenue on Tuesday by a 16-3 vote.

Benvenuti told committee members that gang violence is something that is affecting most of the state.

“The continued growth in size, strength and reach of gangs in Kentucky, I believe is the most critical protection issue facing our commonwealth,” Benvenuti said. “Kentucky is less than a handful of states who have failed to change their gang laws, to modernize their gang laws so they can be effective at preventing gang violence.”

Another provision of the bill requires that anyone who is found to be a member of a criminal gang at the time of commission of a felony, and who is subsequently convicted of a felony that puts the public at risk, would be sentenced to a penalty that is one class higher than the penalty provision pertaining to the felony offense he or she was convicted of, unless the person is determined to be a persistent felony offender.

“In Kentucky ladies and gentleman, gang recruitment is a misdemeanor, so one thing House Bill 169 does is that it makes gang recruitment a felony charge,” Benvenuti said. “Certainly, if an adult recruits a child into a lifestyle that will wind up either in the graveyard or in prison, that should be a felony.”

FOP Bluegrass Lodge 4 President Jason Rothermund spoke in favor of the legislation saying that it is all about making communities in the state safer.

“If you look at this bill, the message isn’t solely that it’s a law enforcement bill, this is a bill for the commonwealth,” Rothermund said. “The message that we need to send to the commonwealth is that Kentucky is not an open market for gangs.”

Institute for Compassion in Justice Executive Director Rebecca Ballard DiLoreto spoke against the bill saying it’s more about incarceration and targeting minorities, as well as providing no rehabilitation for offenders.

“This bill, House Bill 169 has no balance,” DiLoreto said. “It is about massive terms of incarceration, and it will have a harsh impact on our youth of color and our young adults. Why are we removing judicial discretion in sentencing?”

Rep. Arnold Simpson, was one of 3 Democrats, along with Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, and Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, to vote against the bill.

“I must vote no for a multiplicity of reasons, one of which is the fact of the matter is, as I sit here, I think this bill is going to impact individuals who look like me far more than others,” Simpson said.

HB 169 moves on to the full House for consideration.

Don Weber

Don Weber is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers politics and education on Pure Politics, Kentucky’s only nightly program dedicated to state politics. Don is a lifelong Kentuckian and a graduate of Northern Kentucky University. He spent many years covering sports in the Northern Kentucky area before shifting primarily to politics. You can watch Don’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. If you have a story idea you can reach Don at donald.weber@charter.com.

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