A year after winning approval of California’s crackdown on sex offenders known as Jessica’s Law, the husband-and-wife team of state Sen. George Runner and Assemblywoman Sharon Runner are pushing a new initiative that would target gang members for tougher prosecution and dedicate nearly $1 billion annually to enforcement and intervention, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Republican legislators from Lancaster hope to collect enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2008 ballot. They have the backing of the father of the state’s three-strikes law as well as law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
The measure drew immediate opposition from some Democratic leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez. George Runner said gang violence in Los Angeles and other big cities has reached “epidemic” levels and requires a new approach. “It’s unfortunate that they are playing on the fears of the public and stoking the fires of wedge politics,” said Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for Perata. One controversial aspect of the initiative would set aside $600 million in existing public safety funding and prevent it from being used for other programs unless three-fourths of the state legislature agreed. It also would add $340 million to funds for fighting and preventing gangs. “We are just prioritizing public safety,” George Runner said. “The Legislature has always tended to abuse or use public safety dollars for other purposes.” A spokesman for Nuñez, called the plan “ballot-box budgeting which will put even more pressure on our already crowded prisons.”