Bill on applying racketeering laws to gang members sent to Gov. Bill Haslam

Bill on applying racketeering laws to gang members sent to Gov. Bill Haslam

May 1st, 2012 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Legislation expanding state racketeering laws to apply to criminal gang activity is on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration.

The House today approved the anti-gang measure, sought by Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, on an 86-2 vote. Senators passed the bill Monday on a 33-0 vote.

"This is really some good legislation," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, told House members. "If you got any type of gang activity in your community this is going to give your law enforcement a tool to go after them. It'll get the worst of the worst off the street."

The bill expands the state's current Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to include criminal gangs. It alters the definition of "racketeering activity" to include the commission of or attempt to commit, conspiring to commit, or soliciting, coercing, or intimidating another person to commit a criminal gang offense.

Those convicted would face increased sentences of about three years to nearly 5 1/2 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

The state Department of Correction estimates it will increase state expenditures by about $109,800 annually with few affected. But city officials say that is based on current RICO statutes, and they anticipate police and prosecutors will be eager to take advantage of the law.

The Senate version was sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

The bill was one of two that Littlefield asked local lawmakers to push in this year's General Assembly. The second bill had a price tag of some $1.9 million, which was deemed too expensive.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Chattanooga Times Free Press.