TOPEKA — The Kansas version of a federal law to crack down on criminal gangs is now on its way to the governor’s desk for final approval.
On Tuesday, state senators voted 38-2 for final passage of Senate Bill 16, the Kansas Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s Gang Free Kansas Advisory Group recommended the bill as one of his top priorities for the 2013 legislative session.
“Today’s passage of a state-level anti-racketeering law will give Kansas law enforcement and prosecutors a critical tool that our federal partners long have used to convict the senior leaders of criminal organizations,” Schmidt said in a statement. “Kansas will be safer because of this enactment, and I commend the Legislature for approving it.”
Senate Bill 16 resembles federal RICO laws enacted in 1970 to combat the Mafia. With RICO, law enforcement officials are given the ability to charge gang members for engaging in several connected crimes, rather than individual crimes.
Law enforcement officials would be able to indict suspects on participating in racketeering activity over a period of time, including acts of murder and the threat of murder, kidnapping, gambling, robbery, arson and other related crimes, only after that person commits a serious felony.
The bill also solidifies the definition of “criminal street gang member” in existing Kansas law.
Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita, has worked for five years to pass the Kansas version of RICO legislation through both bodies of the Legislature.
“The concern was people coming in facing two to five years in prison, knowing they wouldn’t spend all of that time, were reluctant to turn someone in who was higher up in their ranks,” Petersen said. “When facing hard time, they tend to speak more freely and other states have used this practice to get to the top of these groups.”