HARRISBURG - Bills to crack down on criminal gang activity advanced along two tracks Tuesday in the House and Senate.
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation to give the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing authority to provide tougher sentences for offenses in which a gang is involved and for recruiting a gang member and threatening someone who wants to quit a gang. The bill would address such cases as when a teenage Hazleton girl was beaten as part of a gang initiation, said Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp., the bill sponsor.
"Pennsylvania is behind the times when it comes to gangs and dealing with gang-related behavior," she said.
Then the Senate Judiciary Committee approved by an 8-2 vote two bills to create a new criminal offense of recruiting gang members and toughening penalties for specific crimes that benefit the interests of a gang.
Sens. Jane Earll, R-49, Erie, and Mary Jo White, R-21, Oil City, said they voted against the bills because they contain ambiguous language. Sentencing bills shouldn't be rushed through in the final days of a legislative session, said Ms. White.
Panel Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-12, Willow Grove, said amendments to clarify provisions in the bills will be offered in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
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