- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Republican senators are joining with state prosecutors to strengthen anti-gang legislation that had been defanged by the Democratic-controlled House earlier this session.

The Maryland Gang Prosecution Act of 2007 — which was sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford County Republican — was approved by the House with more lenient guidelines than its sponsors originally wanted.

“We need to come back in on the Senate side and offer some amendments to make it tougher,” Mrs. Jacobs said.

The House sent the proposal last week to the Senate with much fanfare, but Mrs. Jacobs and state prosecutors say the bill doesn’t have the teeth necessary to curtail gang crime.

“There are certainly some things we’d like to see done to improve upon it,” said Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil, president of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association.

The bill would establish “gang activity” as a new crime and would define what constitutes a gang and what crimes constitute gang activity.

The House changed the original bill by reducing penalties for convictions from up to 30 years in prison to between 10 and 20 years, removing misdemeanors from the list of crimes and narrowing the definition of who could be considered a gang member.

The proposal mirrors legislation passed in California in 1988, which tacks on stiffer penalties for gang members than for non-gang members.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy led a coalition of prosecutors in January to lobby lawmakers for stiffer penalties for convicted gang members and cut off their financial assets, but she said the legislation introduced was not what she had sought.

“It was going to be very beneficial — we thought,” Miss Jessamy said.

A spokeswoman for Miss Jessamy said she was unhappy with the version introduced at the beginning of the session because it did not go far enough in defining gangs and gang activities, adding that the latest version is not much better.

“We ended up with a shell of a bill,” said spokeswoman Margaret Burns.

But delegates who worked on the legislation said the bill is balanced in that it goes after gang bosses without unnecessarily penalizing street-level gang members.

“I think it needed to be a stronger penalty, but overall, I’m happy with the bill,” said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, Western Maryland Republican.

The bill was a popular cause this session, with support from Mr. O’Malley, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, all Democrats.

Both Mr. O’Malley’s and Mr. Gansler’s offices said they are waiting to see what the Senate does with the bill.

Mr. Gansler “believes this is a really good starting point, but we really have to see what comes out,” said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

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