The state Senate Appropriations Committee Monday approved Sen. John Yudichak's amendment to an anti-gang bill, toughening penalties for gang members who recruit anyone under 16 years old. The law also broadens enforcement tools by treating gang recruitment by jailed gang members with the full force of the law.

"We have received a tremendous amount of information and advice and that has made a difference in fine-tuning this landmark anti-gang legislation," Yudichak said. "The amendment strengthens an already good bill by making sure that gang members think twice before recruiting vulnerable young teens."

Yudichak credited Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi, along with Senators John Rafferty (R-Berks, Chester, Montgomery) and Ted Erickson (R-Delaware) for helping craft the comprehensive gang legislation that appears to be headed for passage.

Yudichak's provisions were amended into House Bill 1121, a sweeping measure intended to curb gang activity by making gang recruitment a crime, and increasing sentences for crimes committed in support or promotion of gang activity.

The bill and Yudichak's amendment are part of an ongoing effort on the part of lawmakers to curtail what a U.S. Justice Department report said was expanding gang activity in Northeast Pennsylvania.

"The influence of gangs on young people can only grow in a dark and silent environment," Yudichak said. "By getting everyone in the community involved and giving law enforcement enhanced tools to deal with gangs, we are trying to stop the growth before it can claim any more young people."

Operation GangUp, a series of educational seminars, sponsored by Sen. Yudichak and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta has brought together law enforcement, local government, and concerned citizens. The bi-partisan effort, supported by state Sens. Lisa Baker and John Gordner, as well as state Reps. Tarah Toohil and Sid Kavulich, drew attention to the need for Pennsylvania to add a gang specific law to the arsenal of prosecutors in dealing with criminal gang activity.