YAKIMA -- A Democratic proposal for a statewide, anti-gang grant program is enjoying bipartisan support heading into a public hearing in the House next week.
House Bill 2432 would have the state Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice award grants locally to fund projects focused on criminal street gang prevention and intervention. The bill calls for $5 million from the general fund and up to $1 million generated by the Attorney General's office from settlements, civil penalties and recoveries from lawsuits.
The Partnership Council is a public/private effort under the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Doug Walsh, consumer protection division chief for the Attorney General's office, said the office will propose an amendment to remove the term "settlements" from the legislation. Walsh said he fears the legislation as it stands would conflict with court orders for those funds, such as victim restitution, but otherwise it has the attorney general's full support.
"We want to avoid any conflict between the branches of government," he said in an interview Wednesday.
Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, who has worked for comprehensive anti-gang legislation in recent sessions, said he supports the bill but is concerned whether the program would get the funding it needs and whether the money would be taken from other effective public safety programs. Ross serves on the House Committee on Early Learning & Human Services, where the bill will be discussed.
"The more difficult you make it for gangs to operate in the community, that is always the position we want to take," Ross said.
Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, the bill's prime sponsor, said in a news release that he met with law enforcement, educators, families and people at all levels of government before drafting the legislation, which would create more opportunities for youth "to keep them off the streets."
"We need to start putting effort, money and the collective resources of communities and local law enforcement into strategies that actually work," Moscoso said.
Although Ross was not involved in the grant program legislation, he worked on three other bills to address gangs. They include a bill to authorize counties to create juvenile gang courts (HB2535) and to authorize civil injunctions to prevent known gang members from associating with each other to interrupt gang activity (HB2594).
The civil injunctions proposal is similar to a measure requested by Attorney General Rob McKenna in the 2011 regular session that failed after critics argued it would broaden the powers of law enforcement in a way that could lead to racial profiling.
Ross remains committed to what he believes would be the positive influence of civil injunctions but couldn't say whether he and other sponsors can change opponents' minds this session.
"Well, we'll see," he said.
The legislation from last year's session included a more popular proposal for a grant program almost identical to Moscoso's. Lawmakers have said they hope separating the proposals will make passage easier.
The Partnership Council on Juvenile Justice, which would award the grants, would be an advisory group with representatives from state, local and tribal governments as well as nonprofit organizations. The group would be able to award grant money to coalitions of at least one local government entity and at least one nonprofit organization.
The grant recipient would have to provide 25 percent of the project money and spend no more than 4 percent of the money on administrative costs.
A public hearing for the bill set for Thursday was canceled over weather concerns.
A spokeswoman for the House Democrats said the hearing will be rescheduled for next week, but no date or time has been set.