Building on the work of the Governor's Taskforce on School and Campus Safety, Governor Bob McDonnell today introduced eight pieces of legislation designed to make Virginia's schools and campuses safer. Highlights of the agenda include legislation to develop a critical incident response model curriculum; to require School Boards to establish threat assessments teams and improve communication between school administrators, behavioral health professionals and law enforcement officials; to establish a fund to assist local school systems with security upgrades; and, to create a new criminal offense for entering a school while armed or in possession of an explosive device with the intent to commit a violent felony.
"It is so important that we are doing everything in our power to provide a safe learning environment in our schools and on our campuses," Governor McDonnell said. "We have no greater obligation than protecting our children and those who are engaged in the important role of educating our children and young people."
"The proposals I'm making to the General Assembly will make schools and campuses in the Commonwealth safer. They will also provide the resources necessary to assist our first responders, educators and mental health professionals in protecting our schools. I am thankful for the work that the dedicated group of leaders and experts on the School and Campus Safety Task Force has done on the important issue of keeping our schools safe."
On Monday, December 20, Governor McDonnell issued Executive Order 56 establishing a multidisciplinary taskforce to review school and campus safety in light of the horrific and senseless murders that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He has also established a separate mental health workgroup chaired by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel. The Taskforce provided preliminary recommendations last week on how to make the schools and campuses in the Commonwealth safer. This legislation complements budget items, including recommendations from the Mental Health and Education Workgroups, to provide additional funding for school safety.
Key elements of the Governor's 2013 School Safety agenda include:
Immunity from Civil Liability - Expands current Virginia law by extending civil immunity to any person who reports, with good faith, information that an individual poses credible danger of serious bodily injury or death to one or more students, school, personnel or others on school property.
Lockdown Drills - Requires each school division to designate an emergency manager to coordinate school preparedness within the division and mandates schools conduct a lockdown drill once each semester.
Juvenile Information Sharing - Facilitates the sharing of juvenile intake and petition information with school divisions and public and private institutions of higher education.
Critical Incident Response Model Curriculum - Directs the Departments of Criminal Justice Services, Education, Behavioral Health and Development Services and State Police to develop a model Critical Incident Response training program for school personnel and those providing services to schools.
Funding for Facility and Security Upgrades - Proposes the creation of a fund to provide grants or loans to localities, subject to local match, for facility upgrades of older facilities in order to improve security and for other security purposes.
Threat Assessment Teams - Requires each School Board to establish a violence prevention committee and threat assessment teams similar to those required for Virginia's public institutions of higher education. School systems must annually collect and report quantitative data to the Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Penalty for Straw Man Gun Purchases - Increases the punishment for all straw-man transactions, which occurs when a person lawfully purchases a firearm with the intent to transfer that firearm to a person ineligible to purchase a firearm. Further, this legislation adds a mandatory one year punishment for the purchaser and adds a new 10 year mandatory minimum for the ineligible person if the transaction involves multiple firearms.
Penalty for Entering A School Armed - Creates a new criminal offense for entering a school while armed or while in possession of an explosive device with the intent to commit a violent felony. The proposed punishment is a Class 3 felony (5-20 years).
The House of Delegates has already passed legislation (HB 1871 - McClellan) that defines "bullying" in the Code of Virginia, a recommendation of the Taskforce.