RALEIGH, N.C. — A Senate committee approved anti-gang legislation Tuesday afternoon, a day before mayors planned to gather in Raleigh to push for the legislation.
The Senate Rules Committee approved two bills. One would toughen penalties for people who participate in gang activity, including recruiting new members. The second bill asks county juvenile crime prevention councils to work on gang-prevention initiatives.
The bills are expected to go before the full Senate tomorrow.
“Gangs have taken a foothold in our community. They're in our schools, in our neighborhoods. So, this sends a clear and distinct message to those in street gangs,” said Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg.
As the bills cleared the panel, several mayors were expected to lobby Wednesday for passage of anti-gang legislation. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, showed up at the Legislative Building on Tuesday and said he was glad to see movement on the bills.
McCrory has made the issue central to his run for governor. He applauds the legislative momentum, but senses election year politics.
“They (legislators) didn't want to hear it again. They heard it last year, swept it under the rug. Now, everyone, all of a sudden, is for it. The critics are hidden,” McCrory said.
Graham disagreed, saying he has been working on the act for more than three years.
“The governor’s election is in November, not today,” Graham said.
McCrory's Democratic opponent in the fall is Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, who issued a statement Tuesday praising the anti-gang legislation.
If the legislation passes, House and Senate leaders will have to work out differences over the age of offenders and the cost for prisons and prevention.
Some lawmakers on Tuesday called for a temporary ban on forced annexations by towns and cities.
North Carolina is one of four states that allow involuntary annexation without consultation with property owners in the affected area.
Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, held a press conference Tuesday to discuss the proposed legislation.
“We see time and time again individual citizens having their property forced into a city, their taxes increased substantially and all without an opportunity to be heard,” Berger said. He said it is time to review the law, which dates to 1959.
The House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation voted Monday to move forward with a bill that would impose a statewide temporary moratorium on involuntary annexation through June 30, 2009. Now, the full House will consider the bill.
Smoking bans also garnered attention Tuesday.
Bills were filed in the House and Senate to ban smoking in all state and local government-owned cars. The ban would only apply to passenger vehicles assigned to employees, however.
Also at the General Assembly, a statewide partnership of citizens and businesses urged the General Assembly to provide $200 million a year, over five years, to protect the state’s land and water resources before they are irreversibly lost.
Land for Tomorrow officials held a lobby day at the legislature Tuesday.
“I think we all can see in our daily lives the way land is being consumed in the state, and if we don’t protect those pieces of land that are most important to us, we may lose what attracted so many people to the state,” said land developer D.R. Bryan, an ambassador for the program.
The group’s plan would allocate $1 billion over the five-year period to trust funds that support the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, farmland, parks and recreation and clean water.