Yudichak-backed anti-gang legislation becomes law
By Elizabeth Skrapits (Staff Writer)
Published: October 26, 2012 | The Times-Tribune
Courtesy of Sen. John Yudichak's office State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, right, shakes hands with Gov. Tom Corbett after the bipartisan anti-gang legislation was signed into law Thursday.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law Thursday bills intended to crack down on gang members and their attempts to recruit and exploit people, especially children.
"Today I think we passed some very good legislation, most, if not all of it, in a very bipartisan fashion," said state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.
The state's first gang-specific law, House Bill 1121, adds Pennsylvania to the ranks of 20 other states that make recruiting gang members a crime.
The new law also increases sentences for crimes committed in support or promotion of gang activity, and an amendment added by Yudichak calls for severe penalties for gang recruitment by jailed gang members.
VIDEO: Yudichak-backed anti-gang legislation becomes law
The goal is to keep neighborhoods, schools and kids safe, Yudichak said.
"We really are making every effort to dismantle, to disrupt this gang activity," he said. "They are, after all, business enterprises. They are trying to create profit centers."
When there are fewer police officers and less recognition of gang activity, they flourish, Yudichak said.
"By making it tougher for them to do business, we believe we can severely limit gang activity in Northeast Pennsylvania," he said.
Yudichak said a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice "really opened our eyes."
"We recognized that we had to put politics aside. This is something that could quickly expand drug trafficking, violent crime, in our schools, in our communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania," he said.
With U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, Yudichak got the Luzerne and Lackawanna counties' communities engaged through "Operation Gang Up," a series of well attended forums that included stakeholders ranging from school districts to law enforcement.
The two counties worked together, recognizing from the federal report that the gang activity was coming from the Interstates 80 and 81 corridors and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Yudichak said.
He said state Sens. Dominic Pileggi, John Rafferty, Ted Erickson and John Gordner were finding similar problems in their districts: gangs being pushed from the cities into the suburban areas. As a result, with help from district attorneys throughout Pennsylvania as well as law enforcement agencies, House Bill 1121 was created.
House Bill 235, a related bill Corbett also signed into law Thursday, is aimed at required posting of the free, 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. The hotline, funded by the state Department of Health and Human Services, is a resource to help victims and allow community members to report suspicious activity that could be related to human trafficking.
In many gangs, human trafficking is more lucrative than their drug enterprises and carried less of a penalty, Yudichak said.
Both bills go into effect in 60 days.
Other Northeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers involved in the bills include state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township; state Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald; state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake; state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-Taylor; state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston; and state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township.