HARRISBURG - The scheduling of tandem votes on anti-gang legislation in Senate and House committees this week is a sign of a bipartisan effort to address an issue important to Northeast Pennsylvania this fall.
The committee action is the first step to enact tougher state laws against criminal street gangs, which have become more active in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, said Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke.
"Our goal is to get it to the governor's desk by the end of the session," Mr. Yudichak said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has slated action Tuesday on a bill to create a new criminal offense of "recruiting gang members" and toughening penalties for specific crimes involving violence or drugs that benefit the interests of a gang. This measure is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, Chester, who has raised the profile of the gang activity issue at the Capitol.
"There is momentum to get strong anti-gang legislation to his (Gov. Tom Corbett's) desk," said Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson.
On the same day, the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled action on a bill sponsored by Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp., to give the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing authority to provide tougher sentences for offenses where a gang is involved.
The committee action will be followed by floor votes as early as the first week of October, said Mr. Yudichak.
The Senate could speed the process by amending a gang-related bill previously approved by the House, he added. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is supporting the legislation.
Mr. Yudichak has sponsored similar anti-gang bills of his own, a complement to the "Operation GangUp" initiative he has undertaken with U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton. The two will hold another public information session Sept. 27, part of a series since a recent U.S. Justice Department report identified the Northeast region as a target area for criminal gangs and drug distribution networks.
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