The General Assembly is considering eight pieces of legislation tied to school safety. The bills were introduced at the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell last week.
McDonnell (R) announced the legislation, which was recommended by the Taskforce on School and Campus Safety, on Friday. The suggestions include requiring lock-down drills in all school divisions each semester, expanding civil immunity for anyone reporting credible threats to safety and a penalty for entering a school armed.
The taskforce was established by executive order Dec. 20 in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It includes William & Mary Police Chief Don Challis and Sandy Ward, director of the School of Education’s School Psychology program. The taskforce, which first convened Jan. 14, was asked to provide preliminary recommendations by the end of the month. It will issue a final report no later than June 30.
McDonnell’s school safety agenda items address communication barriers and a need for safety upgrades, while introducing new weapons-related penalties. The House of Delegates already passed legislation defining “bullying” in the Code of Virginia, a recommendation of the taskforce.
The legislation includes:
Immunity from Civil Liability: SB1376 would expand the current law to extend civil immunity to any person who reports, with good faith, information that someone poses credible danger of serious bodily injury or death to one or more students, school, personnel or others on school property. It passed through the Committee for Courts of Justice on Monday.
Lockdown Drills: HB2346 would require each school division to designate an emergency manager to coordinate a lockdown drill once a semester. As of Monday, it passed the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.
Juvenile Information Sharing: HB2347 would allow juvenile intake and petition information to be shared by law enforcement with school divisions and public and private institutions of higher education. It has passed the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.
Critical Incident Response Model Curriculum: HB2345 would direct the departments of Criminal Justice Services, Education, Behavioral Health and Development Services and State Police to develop a model Critical Incident Response training program for school personnel and service providers. The bill was in the appropriations subcommittee of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee as of Tuesday.
Funding for Facility and Security Upgrades: HB2343 would establish the School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund and Local School Safety Fund, to be administered by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. The fund would be used to make grants and loans to school divisions for school safety and security improvements. The bill was assigned to the public safety subcommittee of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
Threat Assessment Teams: HB2344 would require school boards to establish a violence prevention committee and threat assessment teams similar to those required at Virginia’s colleges. The school systems would have to collect and report data to the Department of Criminal Justice Services. The bill is in the public safety subcommittee.
Penalty for Straw Man Gun Purchases: SB1378 would increase the punishment for all straw man transactions, which occur when a person lawfully buys a firearm with the intent to transfer it to someone ineligible to buy one. The legislation also adds a mandatory one-year punishment for the purchaser and a 10-year mandatory minimum for the ineligible person if the transaction involves multiple firearms. The bill passed the Committee for Courts of Justice and has been referred to finance.
Penalty for Entering a School Armed: SB1377 would create a new criminal offense for entering a school while armed or in possession of an explosive device with the intent to commit a violent felony. The proposed punishment is a Class A felony (5-20 years). The bill passed the Committee for Courts of Justice and has been referred to finance.