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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen March 3, 2013

General Assembly kills bill

While running for governor, Bob McDonnell, pledged to seek tougher penalties against those who recruit members for criminal gangs.

His campaign issued this statement in August 2009:

"Currently, any person who solicits, invites, recruits, or encourages another to actively participate or become a member of a criminal street gang is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. To adequately punish those engaged in recruiting members into gangs, McDonnell will propose that this offense be increased to a Class 6 felony.

"Additionally, while the current statute holds that an adult who solicits, invites, recruits or encourages a juvenile to actively participate or become a member of a gang is guilty of a Class 6 felony, McDonnell will propose that the General Assembly elevate this offense to a Class 5 felony.”

Let's put this into plain language. The maximum prison sentence for recruiting adult gang members is one year. McDonnell wanted to expand it to five years. He also wanted to double the maximum five-year prison sentence for recruiting juvenile gang members.

That exact bill was never introduced. Instead, McDonnell endorsed unsuccessful legislation in 2012 that would have made it a Class 5 felony -- punishable by up to 10 years in prison -- for recruiting a gang member "by telephone or by any electronically transmitted communication.”

State Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, sponsored the legislation. He told us the bill focused on cell phones because gangs almost always use the traceable devices in recruiting members.

In other words, the bill would have largely accomplished McDonnell's campaign pledge by 1) imposing a maximum 10-year prison sentence for recruiting youths to gangs and, 2) toughening the penalty for luring adults.

An amended version of the bill was approved by the Senate but ran into trouble in the House. Budget analysts said they could not estimate the cost of imposing the tougher sentences on gang recruiters. The House Appropriations Committee -- unwilling to write a blank check and facing tight budgets -- killed the measure.

Where does this leave McDonnell"s campaign pledge? .

As we've found with many of his vows, he merely promised to have bills introduced. McDonnell never guaranteed that the General Assembly would approve them.

This is another such case. McDonnell fulfilled his commitment by endorsing McDougle's unsuccessful bill. We rate this a Promise Kept.

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