Senate Committee passes controversial “gang bill”

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ)- A controversial bill that looks to prevent gang recruitment is just steps away from becoming law.

Emotions ran high during a senate committee meeting as lawmakers clashed with leaders of the African American community over whether or not House Bill 169, the gang prevention bill, disproportionately targets minority youth.

“Sometimes it feels like it is because what we’re talking about are young black children but if this were your child because I’m telling you I am a parent and I am willing to die for mine and when I elect people I expect them to be willing to die for mine too,” said Sadiqua Reynolds, president of the Louisville Urban League, during her testimony to lawmakers.

At the center of the debate over House Bill 169, the so-called gang bill, is race.

The bill looks to crack down on gangs in Kentucky by, among many things, increasing the penalty for gang recruitment from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Sponsors of the bill say it will help law enforcement officers better target gang members, stop gang activity, thus making neighborhoods safer.

But opponents of the bill say it is too broad and could lead to even more minority youth getting swept up into the criminal justice system.

“This bill is one that is focused on intentionally incarcerating youthful and young adult offenders that are African decent, African American, Hispanic, what have you, people of color,” said Anthony Everett with the Lexington Human Rights Commission.

“This whole notion of color is really sinful in my opinion. This is about creating safe neighborhoods and keeping children from getting into gangs in the first place and for kids who have already taken that first step, to get them out of that situation and put them on a better path,” said rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, the sponsor of the bill.

The bill has an emergency clause, meaning if passed by the full senate and signed by the governor, it will go into effect immediately.

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