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Lawmakers have begun their push to retaliate against gang members, passing the first of six gang bills on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon.
Noting a recent boom in gang-related crimes across the Wasatch Front, a trio of legislators are upping the stakes for gang members by hardening punishments for group crimes.
A trio of officials have taken a look at other states' gang laws and produced a series of six bills. Ogden Police Chief Sen. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden; Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman; and Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, are targeting gang members caught for shootings, beatings -- and even loitering.
Wimmer would crack down on gang members involved in drive-by shootings and running from cops.
All drive-bys could be prosecuted as a minimum of an aggravated assault, and the shooter could also be charged with a felony for discharging a firearm. Also, fleeing police would be bumped from a third-degree to a second-degree felony after an offender's first violation.
In the past, Wimmer said shooters whose bullets struck a target or bystanders could sometimes talk their way out of an aggravating charge by reasoning they only intended to intimidate their rivals and did not mean to hit anyone. Also, under current laws, a shooter can not be charged with discharging a firearm on top of an aggravated assault, attempted murder or drive-by charge.
Seelig also wants gang members to spend more time behind bars.
Her bill would increase the prison sentence for people caught with a group committing a first-degree felony by five years. It also would enhance penalties for retail theft committed in a group and classify group theft as criminal gang activity.
But in the midst of massive budget cuts, both Wimmer's and Seelig's bills stalled in committee Wednesdsay -- it is unclear how much the additional prison time would cost the state. The minimum prison sentence for a drive-by, for example, would increase from three years to five years, and the maximum sentence would be bumped from five years to 15 years.
Meanwhile, Greiner is posing four bills. Among other things, they would hold parents responsible for gang-related property damages caused by their kids, prohibit a person who committed a gang crime from carrying dangerous weapons for five years and enhance punishments for gang-related crimes.
But another of Greiner's goals is drawing some criticism.
Senate Bill 16 seeks to enable local governments to set up Gang Free Zones, or specified areas where gangs could not loiter. The aim: to protect abandoned private property when officers can not reach a landowner by allowing officers to chase off known gang members and charge them with a class B misdemeanor.
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, argued that the bill could violate the Constitutional freedom to assemble and give officers too much latitude to decide what exactly constitutes a gang.
The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that a similar Chicago "Gang Congregation Ordinance" was unconstitutional because it gave law enforcement too much discretion on what constituted loitering.
But Greiner said his bill is written to comply with the Court's decision.
A fourth lawmaker -- Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland -- has said she intends to join the fight against gangs. She wants to take a page from California law and introduce a bill that would make it illegal to associate with or be a member of a criminal street gang.
The last day to introduce a new bill is Feb. 5.
Progress report on six bills that would ramp up penalties against gangs:
HB36 (broadens definition of aggravated assault, allows more charges for drive-by shootings): Held in committee waiting for report on financial impact
HB37 (extends prison time for crimes committed with gangs): Held in committee waiting for report on financial impact
SB16 (allows local governments to establish Gang Free Zones): Passed Senate on Wednesday, now awaiting House approval
SB19 (enhances penalties for committing crime in groups with a gang): Awaiting Senate approval
SB28 (prohibits those convicted of gang crimes from possessing dangerous weapons): Awaiting Senate approval
SB118 (holds parents responsible for property damages caused by their kids): Awaiting Senate approval