Flanked by students, parents, educators, school administrators and members of the General Assembly, Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law today seven pieces of legislation passed during the 2011 General Assembly session that offer additional protections to students in Virginia's public and private schools. The new legislation focuses on reducing risks for Virginia students by making it illegal for sex offenders to operate or ride on school buses, increases penalties for drivers who pass stopped school buses, makes certain drugs and bath salts controlled substances, expands existing laws making obscene language sent by electronic means a crime, and provides localities the ability to install video cameras on buses to protect students. Additional legislation requires a survey of students to be conducted by the Department of Health to identify other risk factors faced by students and improve substance abuse programs.
"The foremost obligation of government is public safety, and protecting our youngest citizens so that they may focus on their education is a moral obligation for all Virginians," said Governor McDonnell. "We are charged with protecting more than 1.3 million students in Virginia's schools, so it is vital that law enforcement has additional tools available to combat the potential violence and crimes that can make our institutions of learning scary places for students."
Delegate Rob Bell, sponsor of legislation to restrict sex offenders' access to school buses and to expand laws making obscene language sent by electronic means a crime, said, "Students should not only be protected when they are in the school building, but when they are traveling to and from their school and when interacting with other students. We must create an atmosphere conducive to learning and ensure that each child has the opportunity to safely thrive in their school environment."
Delegate Scott Garrett added, "Children are faced with many choices and temptations when attending schools. The bills signed today include provisions restricting access to certain drugs and products that students have used to get high. These statutory changes will help keep students from getting in trouble, or worse, from harming themselves or their peers. We must strive to make the school environment a safe haven for our children."