Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, presents SB 143, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, which would create harsher criminal penalties for involvement in “criminal enterprises.” (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama House Thursday passed a bill creating harsher criminal penalties for involvement in “criminal enterprises.”
SB 143, sponsored by Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, passed on a 95-6 vote. The Senate concurred in the bill Thursday afternoon, sending the bill to Gov. Kay Ivey.
Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, who carried the bill in the House, said Thursday it would allow law enforcement to take people off the street so “folks can live in a safe community.”
“It’s no secret that [criminals are] coming back committing the same crimes over and over,” he said. “It emboldens these types of groups to the point that they may start off with lower-level crime and not being dealt with, and they move up into the more serious type activity.”
The bill originally targeted members of “gangs,” but was changed in the Senate to “criminal enterprise.” The punishments were also reduced to some extent.
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The bill defines “criminal enterprise” as “any combination, confederation, alliance, network, conspiracy, understanding, or other similar arrangement in law or in fact, including a street gang as defined in Section 13A-6-26, of three or more persons, through its membership or through the agency of any member, that engages in a course or pattern of criminal activity.”
Under the bill, a member of a “criminal enterprise” convicted of a Class C felony, normally punishable by one to 10 years in prison, would be sentenced for a Class B felony, with a prison time of two to 20 years. A criminal enterprise member convicted of a Class B felony would be sentenced for a Class A felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. If the original offense was a Class A felony, the person convicted would face a minimum sentence of 25 years.
Democrats said that while the Senate got rid of references to “gangs,” they suggested the intent of the bill did not change.
The bill would allow a person to be defined as a member of a criminal enterprise if they meet three of 10 identifying criteria, including adopting “the style of dress of a criminal enterprise;” the use of a hand sign used by criminal enterprises and having a tattoo associated with criminal enterprises. Associating with a person part of a criminal enterprise or being seen with them four times would also be grounds for identification.
Rep. Patrick Sellers, D-Pleasant Grove, said that the bill would target “specific individuals in our population.”
“At some point, it determines who is doing the selecting,” he said. “Because every fraternity and sorority that are part of the [Divine Nine] have particular colors and as well as what they may call ‘hand signs.’ At some point, I think that our ability to decrease crime is off focus.”
Sellers said that he supports ensuring that the state provides more social services and mental health care to individuals and creates an environment where even local religious communities are involved.
“It saddens me over and over again, to see more and more legislation that’s ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ without adding or having opportunity to where we can have rehabilitation on the front end, and not on the back end,” he said.
Previously, penalties were harsher if there was a gun used in an “act” to promote gang activities. The Senate bill as amended would need to be a “criminal act” to promote criminal enterprises.
A person convicted under the law would not qualify for good time. If a person is found guilty in a crime affiliated with criminal enterprise and a crime with a gun that promotes criminal enterprise, then the penalties would be served after each other.
Attorney General Steve Marshall said after the bill’s passage that the purpose of the bill is not to attack certain groups but is to attack groups that engage in criminal activity.
“I think that’s where we saw some of the confusion. We have to be able to define who the criminal enterprise is, and the bill gives that opportunity, but it’s the next step that becomes what this bill is about,” Marshall said. “It’s that criminal enterprise engaging in activity.”
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, came out in support of the bill, stating that there were initial concerns about unintended consequences, but that the changes made “targets the true intent of the actual legislation, those individuals whether it’s a militia group or whether it’s groups that are involved in criminal activity in general.”
He said that there was a lot of confusion because there was a “tremendous amount of changes” to the bill, and that while lawmakers had the bill in hand, they had not “necessarily seen the bill.”
“I want to make certain that the members that are looking to come up and have conversation about this legislation is put at ease. And I think that when they see the changes, they will be at ease,” Daniels said.
A vote on the bill was delayed Thursday morning to give Treadaway time to explain the bill to concerned Democratic lawmakers.
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