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Pennsylvania State Senate
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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: March 16, 2018 10:58 AM
From: Senator Kim L. Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Terrorist Threats Against Schools
 
I am introducing legislation to address the pressing issue of terroristic threats made against schools.

Threats against schools always multiply in the weeks following deadly school shootings. Since the Parkland, Florida tragedy, more than 40 threats have been made against schools, students or teachers in Western Pennsylvania alone, one of the most recent closing schools in my own school district last Friday.

Whether a threat is found to be a prank to close school or a true desire to hurt people, the effects are the same: panic ensues, education is disrupted, and hefty costs are incurred by school districts and law enforcement in dealing with them. With each threat, the anxiety of parents, teachers, and students over school safety increases. When schools close unexpectedly due to them, days need to be added to make up the lost time. Schools build their calendar to take into account snow days, not closing due to threats. Each threat also creates an investigation utilizing school and law enforcement resources as well as need to address community concerns, all at a cost to taxpayers.

I am introducing one bill aimed at providing a new deterrent to students from making terroristic threats towards schools and another bill that will aid investigations as well as work towards ensuring students who make such threats are more fully evaluated to determine whether they could be more dangerous to themselves or others than a menace pulling a prank.

If you have any questions regarding either of these bills, please contact myself or Geri Sarfert, legislative director, at 717-787-6063.



Document #1

Introduced as SB1174

Description: The first bill will amend Title 75 by providing for a 90-day suspension of the driver’s license of anyone under 21 who makes a terroristic threat from anywhere against individuals or generally towards any school location.  If the individual does not have a current driver’s license, any issuance of one will be delayed by 90 days.  

Students who make terroristic threats can face suspension or expulsion by the school district as well as significant criminal penalties even as juveniles.  However, we need to provide more tangible consequences if they choose to make a threat against a school.   Current statute provides for the license suspension for anyone under 21 who makes a terroristic threat on school grounds or property, during any school-sponsored activity, or on transportation provided to a school or school-sponsored entity.  My legislation would expand those provisions to subject anyone under 21 years of age who makes a terroristic threat against a school or any individual on a school’s property or at a school-related event to a 90-day driver’s license suspension or a 90-day delay in the issuance of one. 



 
 

Document #2

Introduced as SB1175

Description: The second bill will amend Titles 18 and 42 to give law enforcement a new tool in investigating threats made against schools and require two things in the adjudication of individuals who have made a terroristic threat against a school in order to help determine whether they are truly capable of inflicting physical harm against themselves or others.   

First, this bill will allow law enforcement and prosecutors the ability to use an administrative subpoena to obtain subscriber information for a social media account from which they are investigating a threat made against a school.   The ability to easily change public user names on social media accounts hampers investigations into threats, as was the case in the recent threat that closed Central York schools for three days.  Administrative subpoena powers, which is currently given in only child pornography investigations, will enable police and prosecutors to learn quicker from social media companies who the person is behind a particular social media account. 
 
Secondly, district attorneys and judges will be required to request and review the school disciplinary records of any student who is being prosecuted for making a terroristic threat.  I have heard from one superintendent whose school was closed due to a threat that the student had a lengthy disciplinary record that would perhaps have indicted more than the threat being a prank but the record was never requested in the investigation or adjudication of the student. 

Lastly under the bill, judges will be required to order a psychological evaluation of any individual who is being prosecuted for making a terroristic threat against a school.  An evaluation by a mental health professional is the best tool in determining whether an individual has potential to commit real physical harm as they are threatening to do and in need of mental health services rather someone making an idle threat they had no intention in carrying out.