Baker: Senate Approves Stricter Penalties for Threats Against Schools in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG – Legislation that would create heightened penalties for individuals who make terroristic threats to a school passed today in the Senate, according to Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20).

Senate Bill 975 would establish new felony criminal penalties for falsely reporting emergency threats to any school or institution of higher education in Pennsylvania.

“In my district, nearly a dozen schools were plagued last year by anonymous threats this year resulting in closures and lost instruction time and hindered student progress,” Baker said. “I spoke with numerous parents and grandparents who were understandably frightened and upset. There is a serious fear factor involved with any threat and tremendous anxiety for the children, their families and educators.”

In Pennsylvania, the crime of terroristic threats is generally categorized as a first-degree misdemeanor. However, if the threat causes disruption to the normal operations of a building, assembly area or public transportation facility, it is upgraded to a third-degree felony. Senate Bill 975 aims to heighten the severity of this offense to a third-degree felony, particularly when the threat involves a school or institution of higher education. Additionally, the bill includes Baker’s amendment to assist schools in recouping the full expenses associated with evacuations prompted by threats.

“I offered an amendment to the bill following a discussion I had with the Pennsylvania State Police, local law enforcement and school superintendents,” Baker said. “When these threats are made, our schools and emergency response units currently absorb a lot of unnecessary and financially draining costs. They deserve to be reimbursed for the expense so they can continue to provide educational services and community protection services to the full extent their budgets allow.”

Baker’s amendment would enable courts to force those convicted of the crime to pay for costs associated with the emergency response and evacuation. Those costs could include supplies, equipment or materials used to respond to the threat; food that went unused due to the diversion from normal operations; salaries and wages, including overtime pay, for police, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, school district staff or other government employees who responded to the threat; and salaries and wages for teachers, administrators or other school or higher education institution employees who were paid despite the diversion.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Jennifer Wilson

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