TRENTON – Senator Paul A. Sarlo today said that he expects legislation he is sponsoring to combat gang violence and help rehabilitated gang members get jobs will come up for a vote before the Senate soon after clearing key Senate committees.
“There’s a strong sense in the Senate right now that we need to be doing more to combat street gangs in our communities,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Hudson and Passaic. “It’s a problem that affects all areas of our state. It’s no longer just an urban problem.”
The Senate Law & Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee has approved two bills sponsored by Senator Sarlo. The first, bill S-2431, would change the crime of knowingly possessing a prohibited handgun, assault weapon or machine gun from being a third degree crime to being a second degree crime. Second degree crimes are generally punishable by imprisonment of between five and 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. Additionally, third degree crimes carry an assumption of non-incarceration for first time offenders while second degree crimes don’t have that assumption.
“This bill will make it easier for us to put violent gang members behind bars and keep them there. Our tolerance for any illegal gun activity has run out. Too many people are dying because of gun violence for us to not crack down hard,” said Senator Sarlo.
The bill also would require that anyone convicted under its provisions to serve at least five years in prison without the possibility of parole.
The second bill approved was S-2387, which would create a certificate of rehabilitation for convicted criminals who have shown a judge or the state parole board that they have made efforts to reform themselves after committing a crime. The certificate would allow the individual to seek public employment where otherwise their criminal record would prevent them from holding a public job.
“Many gang members turn to crime because they have no other options. When jobs are limited, stealing cars and selling drugs may seem like the only way to make money. This bill will make it easier for those convicted of a crime to make an honest living after they serve their time and demonstrate positive signs of rehabilitation ,” explained Senator Sarlo.
The bill would provide that a public agency has the authority to deny a license or employment if there is a direct relationship between one or more of the offenses and the specific license or employment sought; and the license or employment would put unreasonable risk to property or to the safety of a specific person or the general public.
Finally, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved bill S-2940 which would create the crimes of “gang criminality” and “promoting organized street crime.”
“New Jersey needs to send a message that is loud and clear – if you belong to a gang and commit a crime, the penalties will be swift and severe. No longer will we allow criminal gangs to terrorize our neighborhoods,” Senator Sarlo added.
“Gang criminality” is defined as “committing, attempting to commit, or conspiring to commit, whether as a principal or an accomplice, the offense of prostitution, possession of prohibited weapons and devices, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, possession of a weapon during the commission of a drug offense, or unlawful possession of a weapon while knowingly involved in criminal street gang activity,” while “promotion of organized street crime” would involve “conspiring with others as an organizer, supervisor, financier, or manager to commit any of the following offenses: prostitution, possession of prohibited weapons and devices, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, possession of a weapon during the commission of a drug offense, or unlawful possession of a weapon.”
The gang criminality bill would provide that both crimes be considered separate offenses, one degree higher than the most serious underlying offense. For example, a third degree charge for assault would be accompanied by a second degree charge of gang criminality , Senator Sarlo said.