AUGUSTA – Gang activity that’s expanding from cities to rural areas where it can “fly under the radar” helped to prompt legislation that will be considered next session in Maine, the sponsor said Thursday.

Rep. Amy Volk’s bill would make it a felony for an adult to recruit a juvenile into a gang. New Hampshire passed a similar law in 2008, but that had the effect of shifting more gang activity to Maine, according to the Scarborough Republican.

“Urban areas have had gangs for years. That’s had the effect of pushing gangs into rural areas, where they can fly under the radar,” Volk said. They commit crimes that include drug sales, human smuggling, prostitution and identity theft.

Volk’s bill, submitted at the request of Eric Berry, president of the Maine Gang Task Force, is one of about 120 proposals to be considered during the session that resumes in January.

While the specifics of Volk’s bill have not been worked out, the primary focus is to upgrade the penalties for adults who recruit juveniles into gangs.

Berry told legislative leaders that the FBI has identified nine major street gangs operating in Maine. That helped to prompt the FBI last week to deploy a task force aimed at targeting street gangs in Maine.

“The perception among gang members is that the welcome mat is out in the state of Maine,” he wrote. The FBI’s National Gang Threat Assessment for 2010 says membership in Maine ranges from 1,000 to 4,000.

Federal immigration authorities arrested 24 people in Portland in August 2010 as part of a regional action against gangs, the Maine House Republican Office said. They were members of the Asian Boyz, the True Somali Bloods and True Sudanese Bloods.