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Gang Violence Bill in Frankfort Criticized for Targeting Black, Hispanic Young People

Criminal gang members could face felony instead of misdemeanor penalties for gang recruitment and spend more time in jail under a bill that has cleared the Kentucky House.

House Bill 169 sponsor Rep. Robert Benvenuti (R-Lexington) said a rise in criminal gangs targeting children as young as eight years old makes HB 169 necessary. He said current state law don’t adequately target the threat posed by gangs recruiting children and adults to traffic in drugs, weapons and human beings in Kentucky.

HB 169 will modernize state law “so that we ensure, to the best of our ability, that gangs do not continue to grow and to devastate every corner of this Commonwealth,” said Benvenuti.

Specifically, the bill would make it a felony for adults – who now face misdemeanor charges for criminal gang recruitment--to engage in that crime. It would also allow minors who recruit members of criminal gangs to face felony charges after a first offense.

Additionally, the bill would define a “criminal gang” as three or more people who share a name, hand gestures, symbols or other chosen traits, has been officially identified as a gang, and has at least two members who have been involved in a “pattern” of criminal activity. It would also tighten the definition of a criminal gang syndicate while outlining rules for judicial treatment of criminal gang members. 

Voting against HB 169 was Rep. Attica Scott (D-Louisville), who questioned the bill’s cost – which a fiscal note attached to HB 169 estimates could cost $19.5 million over several years—and its intention.

“I voted no on HB 169 because it is designed to lock up as many young people of color as possible,” Scott said. “And I voted no because $19 million, even over 10 years, is a lot of money to spend to incarcerate more bodies.”

Three floor amendments to the bill were voted down before HB 169 was approved by the House on a vote of 71-17. All Northern Kentucky Republican members of the House voted in favor while Democrats Arnold Simpson, of Covington, voted against, and Dennis Keene, of Wilder, did not vote.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Image via Kentucky House Democrats on Twitter