BOISE – Legislation to beef up Idaho’s laws on violent threats against schools and add possible felony charges passed the House Friday on a 54-12 vote after much debate.
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said the bill originated with the state’s office of school safety and security and has been “thoroughly vetted.” She said, “This statute has not been updated since 2006.”
But several House members said they worried that the bill might make a kindergartner with a 1-inch pocketknife or a youngster engaging in a playground dispute into a felon. Backers of the bill said it absolutely wouldn’t do that.
“Threats to children at schools are not protected speech,” said Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, a retired police officer and deputy U.S. marshal and the bill’s lead sponsor. “In my opinion, it’s an act of terrorism.”
McDonald said, “In Boise alone, there have been 14 threats in the last seven days. … You need to address the threat, you need to do it fast, and that’s what this statute does.”
The bill would expand Idaho’s current law regarding school threats to include threats of violence made from off-site, including by phone or social media. Threats would be misdemeanors; showing up with a deadly weapon in furtherance of the threat would be a felony.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, asked McDonald, “If I read it correctly, if a second-grader would threaten, maybe he brought a little pocketknife to school with him, threaten maybe, ‘I’m going to kill you with my little pocketknife,’ wouldn’t that be considered a felony?”
McDonald answered, “No.”
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said, “Idaho, like it or not, is part of the 21st century, and like it or not, mass shootings at schools are a very sad reality. Law enforcement needs the tools to intercept and intercede to prevent tragedy.”
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, noted that children convicted of offenses that would be considered felonies for adults go into the juvenile system, not to adult prisons. “I believe it is a well-constructed piece of legislation – I believe it keeps us safer,” he said.
While Malek supported the bill, Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, voted against it; the two are facing off in a crowded GOP primary for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat in May, along with several other candidates.
To become law, the bill still needs Senate passage and the governor’s signature.
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