YAKIMA -- The latest anti-gang legislation in Olympia includes a new provision that could get the measure past a long-standing partisan roadblock.
For several years Yakima Valley lawmakers have sought legislation allowing police and prosecutors to seek a court order, known as a civil injunction, to ban gang members from certain neighborhoods or from associating with certain people.
Now comes House Bill 2594, which would allow courts to appoint an attorney for those suspected of being gang members and who want to contest an injunction filed against them.
That provision was left out of the 2011 proposal and was a key demand from Democrats in order to gain bipartisan support, which Republicans ultimately wouldn't concede last session.
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The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, already has 19 Democratic co-sponsors in the House.
"There are some who question if injunctions would simply move gang members from one area to another," Ross said in a news release, "but I believe if this is done right we can have a coordinated, statewide effort to shut down criminal street gangs."
Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin and Yakima County Commission chairman Kevin Bouchey, who is also chairman of the county Gang Commission, testified in favor of the bill earlier this week. The bill is scheduled for an executive session in the House Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness by Tuesday.
Irwin said he came away from Olympia feeling more optimistic about the bill's chances, although opposition concerns of racial profiling and potentially alienating youth from other members of the community remain.
"(Gang members) are criminals preying on otherwise good citizens," Irwin said. "It's by their choice they are alienated, not by our choice."
In a statement on its website the ACLU of Washington, which opposes the legislation, calling the civil injunctions a form of "assembly-line justice" that would put restrictions on youth without protection for due process.
"The ACLU-WA and its allies continue to oppose legislation which focuses on suppression tactics instead of prevention and intervention," the advocacy group said in a prepared statement.
The bill is one of several pieces of anti-gang legislation that has been heard in committee, and received bipartisan support this year. House Bill 2432 would put aside as much as $6 million for gang prevention and intervention grant programs and House Bill 2535 would authorize counties to create juvenile gang courts similar to one already in place in Yakima County.