Lawmakers are eyeing a measure that would hike the prison sentence faced by anyone caught making a threat against a school in Connecticut.
“The most important thing we can do every day in this building and in this state is to keep our children safe,” said Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The proposal, which is subject to a public hearing in Stamford Wednesday, would make threats made against a school a class C felony that carries up to 10 years in prison. A similar bill last year secured the unanimous backing of the Senate but never came up for a vote in the House.
“We had true, bipartisan buy-in,” said Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, but the measure “just got stuck” in the crush of last-minute legislation the last time around.
Maureen Reidy, a mother from Sandy Hook, said that her children — a fifth and seventh grader — experienced the fear that threats can cause during a 2014 lockdown at St. Rose of Lima School in Newtown.
Teachers and students saw police swarm their school, weapons drawn, yelling for everyone to stay down, she said, bringing to mind the massacre two years earlier at a town elementary school. It led children to experience nightmares, fear, and “flashbacks of that horrific day,” she said during a press conference Thursday.
Tong said his daughter, Penelope, a second grader at Northeast Elementary School in Stamford, also experienced a lockdown recently after a threat forced students to hide in closets, safe rooms, and even the kitchen.
“This has to stop,” Tong said.
Tong said the proposal — announced jointly with Hwang at what Tong jokingly referred to as the “Asian sensation press conference” — would establish that if someone makes a threat “the law will come down very hard” on them.
“If anybody thinks it’s too tough, they’re wrong,” Tong said. “We are taking the strongest possible measures we can take.”
“This is truly something we should all get behind,” Hwang said, adding that he’s sure the legislature will pass it this year because there is no opposition to it.
In recent months, schools in Stamford, Hartford, West Haven, and Bristol have been evacuated following threatening phone calls that created panic and undermined the education process.
Bernard Reidy, whose wife also spoke, said anonymous threats have “been a recurring issue” across the state and country.
“The world is watching us,” he said. “It’s our time as a state to stand up.”
Legislators said that in times past, school threats were typically juvenile pranks from students looking to avoid a test or some other adolescent concern. Now, though, they’re more serious.
Hwang said that some are sent via complex email trails that rely on foreign servers to try to hide the sender’s identity. “It’s taken on a level of terrorism,” the senator said.
“We’re really talking about changing the culture,” Bernard Reidy said, much the way everyone now knows you can’t joke about bombs at an airport.
Tong said, “This is a way to reset our social norm.”
Threatening is currently a class A misdemeanor, a much lower offense.
There is a provision included in the proposed Zero-Tolerance Safe School Environment Act that would require the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant a pardon to anyone convicted under the felony provision if they were not yet 18 years old at the time and haven’t gotten into further trouble for at least three years after their conviction.
Hwang said that was added so that a juvenile mistake wouldn’t hold someone back for the rest of their lives.
But legislators said that socking young people with a felony charge for making threats against schools is fair.
“In this day and age, even young people know what this means,” Hwang said.