McKenna 150x120 crop.jpg
Last year attorney general Rob McKenna proposed sprawling anti-gang legislation that would have made it illegal to wear certain types of clothing in public, among

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Rob McKenna and State Lawmakers Take Shotgun Approach to Controversial Gang Laws

McKenna 150x120 crop.jpg
Last year attorney general Rob McKenna proposed sprawling anti-gang legislation that would have made it illegal to wear certain types of clothing in public, among other severe crackdowns. The proposal failed, but the Republican gubernatorial candidate and his political allies are trying it again in 2012, this time with a divide and conquer approach.

McKenna's 2011 legislation was HB 1126, sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, a Republican from Naches. The bill would have done a variety of things if it had been enacted, some arguably quite good and others obviously troubling.

The highlights and lowlights included:

-A clause that would have allowed prosecutors to use an "abatement order" to close a so-called "nuisance property" for one year. Houses that harbor gang members (a tricky thing to define) would be taken into the custody of the state.

-A grant program that would have funded "a gang assessment using evidence-based practices" or a program that uses "evidence-based or innovative and culturally relevant practices."

-Sentence enhancements of up to 125 percent of the existing standard for adults convicted of "a criminal street gang related-felony."

- The ability for prosecutors to file protection orders against individuals, barring them from doing things like "wearing gang clothing in public," or entering certain neighborhoods.

The legislation was polarizing from the start. Lawmakers and law-enforcement officials from gang-ravaged areas pleaded for more tools to help wage a legal war against gangs. Meanwhile, civil rights advocates and even former gang members pointed out that parts of the law were discriminatory, disenfranchising, and ultimately counter-productive.

In the wake of the controversy, the measure didn't even make it to a vote from the relevant House committee. This year, McKenna and Co. have announced that they will try to pass the same legislation but in piecemeal form. "The strategy will be this time to have more than one bill instead of having everything rolled up into (one)," the attorney general told the Yakima County Gang Commission last week.

According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, McKenna's first move in 2012 will be to introduce House Bill 2996, which focuses solely on the "community injunctions" against gang members. The bill, which is still in draft form, defines a gang as having at least five members, two of whom must be considered "leaders." It guarantees people caught-up in injunction proceedings the right to an attorney, something last year's proposal did not.

The bill will be sponsored by Rep. Christopher Hurst, a Democrat from Enumclaw and the chairman of the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. His involvement means the new proposal has vastly improved odds of making it out of committee and onto the House floor.

Nevertheless, the plan still has the potential to rankle civil libertarians as it could be perceived as thinly-veiled racial profiling that will impact only Latino and African-American communities. There's also the question of whether keeping accused gang members out of one neighborhood will simply prompt them to set up shop somewhere nearby.

But with McKenna gearing up for the governor's race against his Democratic foe Jay Inslee, anything that rallies his conservative base east of the mountains and bolsters his tough-on-crime image is probably a win.

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