OLYMPIA - Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna and Representative Charles Ross, R-Naches, earlier this week announced a new proposal to fund programs that prevent young people from joining gangs and offer ways for current gang members to find a way out.
McKenna and Ross suggest setting aside a portion of money from consumer protection settlements negotiated by the Attorney General's Office-approximately $1 million per year-into an account dedicated to such programs. Language creating the program was introduced on Monday to a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Ross and Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw.
"The gang crisis is a public safety emergency that deserves a response this year," McKenna said. "Our proposal to generate investments in prevention programs will pay off in years to come, while our anti-gang protection order and other measures will provide immediate tools for communities seeking to make their neighborhoods safer."
The new fund would also accept private donations. The proposal comes in response to requests from legislators, who, due to the state budget crisis, said that the original proposal to spend $10 million through the use of budget offsets, federal and state money, would not make it through the legislative process.
"We're mindful of incredible budget challenges the legislature faces this year and put our heads together to find a solution that balances the fiscal challenges and the public safety crisis in many of our state's cities," Ross said. "In good faith, my colleagues have requested more emphasis on gang prevention and intervention, and asked us to find a way to pay for it. Our proposal responds to those concerns.
"I look forward to the passage of this critical bill for communities like mine, victimized by criminal gangs."
Ross added that in Yakima in January, a national guardsman and another young man not involved in gangs were attacked and shot on their way home from a community event. Since the legislature convened in January, there has been a least a dozen new gang-related incidents investigated around the state.
In response to concerns from law enforcement and community members, McKenna launched an effort to find solutions to increasing gang violence in 2006. He proposed legislation based on community and law enforcement feedback in 2007. The next year he advocated a bill by Reps. Hurst, Ross and others to fund intervention and prevention programs, along with civil and criminal measures. Much of the bill, including the prevention funds, was rejected by the legislature.
HB 1126 awaits action by the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. The bill must be voted out of committee by today, Feb. 16, in order to survive.