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15th District lawmakers back Sunnyside's stand against gangs

Lawmakers say Legislature could have done more

State Sen. Jim Honeyford and Reps. Bruce Chandler and Dan Newhouse said yesterday they support the Sunnyside City Council's decision Monday night to adopt an ordinance making it unlawful to belong to a criminal street gang. They encouraged other communities in Washington to follow suit and adopt similar anti-gang ordinances.

"The criminal gang situation in the Yakima Valley is serious, and council members are responding by taking serious action," said Chandler (R-Granger). "They are putting the safety of the families they represent first, ahead of concerns about those who would choose to threaten that safety. I think their priorities are in line."

Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) introduced two bills in the House this year that would have given law enforcement and prosecutors new tools with which to go after criminal gang members, including stronger penalties for the property-defacing "tagging" that gangs use. However, House Bill 2215 and House Bill 2224, both of which were co-sponsored by Chandler, never received a public hearing.

Senate Bill 5987, which started out identical to Newhouse's bill, passed the Legislature this year. However, that was only after the Senate Judiciary Committee changed the measure to remove the penalties it proposed and instead direct the creation of a work group that will study the criminal-gang issue instead.

"It was disappointing that the majority party in the Legislature went against the hopes of law-abiding people in our valley and downgraded what could have been strong anti-gang legislation," said Newhouse.

"Work groups and studies have their place. But 'gang-bangers' won't be deterred by a work group or a study," Newhouse continued. " A law that means being arrested and put into custody - no matter if they're in Sunnyside or elsewhere in the state - would do a much better job of getting their attention."

Honeyford said Sunnyside is now doing what the Legislature wouldn't bring itself to do.

"It would have been simpler for the Legislature to address this on a statewide level than to put our communities in the position of having to deal with gangs through local ordinances," Honeyford said.

"It would have helped if the governor had gotten behind a statewide response, and appreciated the high priority placed on public safety in our part of the state," added Honeyford. "But the political will and courage we saw in Sunnyside (Monday) night is not present in Olympia."

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