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Bill on gangs stuck in Senate

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz expressed surprise and frustration Friday that the N.C. General Assembly failed to act on street gang legislation that had strong endorsements from mayors and the law enforcement community.
The General Assembly adjourned for the year Thursday with the “Street Gang Prevention Act” never making it to the Senate floor for a vote.
“To say I am disappointed would be an understatement,” Kluttz said.
The earliest the legislation could be considered again is next May, when the General Assembly gathers for its short session.
The House passed its version of the act (House Bill 274) by a 109-4 vote Tuesday and sent it to the Senate, where it was referred to and stayed in the Appropriations/Base Budget Committee.
The Senate’s version of the Street Gang Prevention Act (Senate Bill 1358) has undergone some changes that members of the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition said weakened the legislation.
But Kluttz said any law that could have gotten on the books this year would have at least sent the message that gang activity was unacceptable, dangerous and held consequences.
It also would have served as a warning to people who recruit gang members, she said.
“What law could be more important to pass than something to protect our children?” Kluttz asked.
If legislators aren’t listening to the mayors of the state’s 25 largest cities or the organization that represents its police chiefs, who are they listening to, Kluttz also asked.
She noted concerns that the legislation would create a burden on the correctional system and a need for more prison beds. Those fiscal costs were on the minds of some senators, she said.
But the legislators failed to think of the monetary costs involved in not addressing gangs and the possible cost in lives lost, Kluttz said.
Kluttz was in Gastonia on Friday at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast with the mayors of five other cities. They were describing the lobbying work of the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition, made up of mayors from the state’s 25 largest cities.
The discussion turned to the Street Gang Prevention Act, which the coalition strongly supported in recent weeks at news conferences in Greensboro and Salisbury and in a special visit to Raleigh last week.
Kluttz said the mayors’ group was “in mourning today.”
Kluttz said she remained proud of Salisbury and the willingness of citizens to address problems with gangs. No other community in North Carolina has had some 500 people step up, participate and say something has to be done now, the mayor said, referring to the June 14 summit on gangs held here.
The core city group dealing with the issue will be meeting next week to create an action agenda based on input coming from citizens at the summit.
The city will be placing updated information related to gangs on its Web site and trying to facilitate the community connections for addressing the problem on many levels.
Project SAFE and the Hurley YMCA have a big program in the works, Kluttz said. Churches also are active. St. John’s Lutheran Church plans a pilot mentoring program for middle-school youth in cooperation with the Youth Services Bureau.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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