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Bill criminalizing school threat hoaxes “held” by committee

A Utah legislative committee has placed a hold on a bill addressing school threat hoaxes. (file photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee is holding a bill that would create a new law against school threats.

Specifying the school threat

Representative Andrew Stoddard is sponsoring the bill. He says school threats currently fall into one of two categories.

“If someone were to make a threat against a school we have two categories of ways they could be charged. There’s a felony level terroristic threat, and [a] class-B threat of violence,” he explains.

According to Stoddard, there isn’t a specific enough law that encapsulates a majority of school threat hoaxes.

“This is frustrating to both prosecutors and law enforcement because there is not a clear, easy way to investigate and charge these types of cases,” said Stoddard.

He admits that his motivation to push the new legislation through is somewhat personal.

“My wife is a high school counselor,” he said. “There have been a few times in the last few years where I know there have been threats made against their school and I know she has to go to school. That’s hard for me to do.”

Debate on details

On Wednesday, a majority of debate stemmed from a portion of the bill that deals with restorative justice. Stoddard is hoping to require schools to take steps to rehabilitate students after such an incident, but the committee decided to take that portion out of the bill.

“Ultimately, I want this bill to help kids by providing them with a greater picture of the consequences of their actions,” he said.

Republican Representative Kim Coleman said the restorative justice portion of the bill might not be appropriate for every school.

“This would mandate restorative justice, and that is a very prescriptive and specific paradigm–a specific tool– that may not be adopted in every LEA or school.”

The Canyon School District supports the bill and pitched the idea to Representative Stoddard.

It will now be up to Stoddard to reintroduce an amended bill.

Further reading:

Fake threats, real consequences: FBI warns people against hoax school threats