Senators Praise Bi-Partisan Passage of Connecticut Safe School Environment Act

May 30, 2015

The legislation combats the increasing number of threats of violence against schools and the intense emotional and educational disruption they cause to students, teachers, parents, and first responders.

HARTFORD – The Connecticut State Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that sets a new standard in how states can respond to the growing rate of threats of violence against schools.

Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) and Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) introduced and championed the bill, SB 1108: The Zero-Tolerance Safe School Environment Act, which increases the penalties for threats of violence against schools.

“Since the unthinkable tragedy at Sandy Hook School on 12/14/12, we have invested millions of dollars to fortify our educational infrastructure across our state, enacted new laws to tackle the plague of gun violence and sought to break down mental health stigmas and provide more support and services, yet we have not taken legislative action to update our penal code for threats of violence against schools,” Sen. Hwang said. “That changes today.”

The bill would create a new section under the state’s existing threatening statutes, pertaining specifically to threats of violence targeting schools. Under that new section, first-degree threatening becomes a Class C felony and second-degree threatening becomes a Class D felony; under the existing general threatening statutes, first-degree threatening is a Class D felony and second-degree threatening is a Class A misdemeanor. The felony charges carry stiffer sentences.

Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) said, “The Reidy family, from Newtown, was advocating on behalf of children, students and teachers for greater penalties for those calling in threats to our schools. Their personal experience with a multitude of threats called into their schools, and the emotional testimony they provided, helped us to pass a bill unanimously in the state Senate that would add a higher penalty for those who would callously terrify and terrorize an already vulnerable community that is still recovering from the aftermath and effects of one of the worst school massacres in our history.

“The lockdown that occurs a when threat like this is received puts teachers and children in a terrified state that has long lasting effects, often times with children refusing to return to school and teachers leaving the profession. This is unacceptable and opens wounds again that have trying to heal. I am very grateful to the chairs and ranking members of the Judiciary Committee and to Senator Tony Hwang who worked to achieve a balanced bill that addresses this concern.”

“Let this message be heard loud and clear: Connecticut will not tolerate threats of violence against our schools,” Sen. Hwang added. “And if someone does commit such a despicable act, they will face severe penalties that bring the punishment more in line with the crime.”

It was the testimony submitted in support of the bill, and especially the highly emotional testimony that Bernard and Maureen Reidy made before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, that drove home the devastating impact these threats can have on school communities. The Reidys, parents of children who attend St. Rose of Lima School in Newtown, spoke to the trauma their kids experienced when their school was targeted by a rash of threats over the past two and-a-half years.

Indeed, it was a rash of threats against schools in Newtown near the end of 2014 that prompted Sen. Hwang to introduce the legislation during his freshman term representing the 28th District towns of Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston and Westport. He has stressed, though, that this is not a Newtown issue.

“Schools across Connecticut, and our nation, are unfortunately facing these threats more and more,” he noted. “We hope that Connecticut’s legislation will serve as a model for how other states can tackle this increasingly frequent and troubling issue that is incredibly disruptive to our children’s educational and emotional well-being.”

Testimony in support of the bill was also submitted by school superintendents and police chiefs, and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.

A key provision of the bill came as a result of Sen. Hwang’s commitment to work with urban legislators to address their concerns about how the increased penalties could impact young people and perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline that has become a focal point of criminal justice reform in Connecticut and across the country. The provision provides that any juvenile convicted under the new statute have their record cleared if, after three years from the date of the original conviction, they have not been convicted of another felony or misdemeanor.

“This amendment, brought forth by Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven) and myself, is an acknowledgement that our young people do make mistakes and, if they prove through their actions over time that it truly was a one-time offense, they deserve a second chance to be a productive and positive member of society by starting with a clean record,” Sen. Hwang said.

In addition to the message to would-be offenders, Sen. Hwang hopes the legislation will serve as a conversation-starter for schools and parents, so they can help deliver the message that there is absolutely nothing funny about making a threat against a school.

The bill now heads to the House for a vote as the legislative session approaches its June 3 deadline.