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News >  ID Government

In wake of big student protest, Idaho Senate passes school-threats bill, 32-1

March 16, 2018 Updated Fri., March 16, 2018 at 8:30 p.m.

The Idaho Senate meets on Friday, March 16, 2018; after much debate, senators passed a school-safety bill on a 32-1 vote and sent the House-passed measure to Gov. Butch Otter. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
The Idaho Senate meets on Friday, March 16, 2018; after much debate, senators passed a school-safety bill on a 32-1 vote and sent the House-passed measure to Gov. Butch Otter. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – Legislation expanding Idaho’s laws on violent threats against schools cleared the Idaho Senate Friday on an overwhelming 32-1 vote, with several senators citing the student protest against gun violence at the Capitol this week.

“We must do something,” said Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland. “There is more we could do and likely should do to protect our schools, but this is a good start.”

The bill, which has an emergency clause that would put it into effect as soon as it’s signed into law, earlier passed the House. It now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.

It would expand Idaho’s current school-threats law, which dates to 2006, to include threats of violence at schools or school activities made from off-site, including by phone or social media. Threats would be misdemeanors; possessing a deadly weapon as part of the threat would be a felony.

Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, debated twice against the bill, saying he thought the felony charge went too far. He questioned whether it would apply to a young person sitting at a computer at home making a threat, with a pocketknife in their pocket. “Is that possession of a deadly weapon?” asked Foreman, a former police officer. “Law enforcement has plenty of tools to intervene, and indeed they do.”

Senators who are lawyers responded to Foreman’s question in their debate, and answered no.

“Possession of the deadly weapon or firearms is not sufficient,” said Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell. “You have to have it for the purpose of carrying out the threat. … You’d have to show that there was actual intent to carry it out.”

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, also a lawyer, said, “This is one of the best-crafted pieces of legislation that I have seen in a difficult area. I have no qualms about supporting the legislation.”

Several senators said they had had concerns about the bill, but after hearing from the lawyers who also serve as senators, those concerns were allayed. They also jokingly expressed gratitude that the legal advice came for free.

Nearly 2,000 high school and junior high students left class to participate in a rally against gun violence at the Idaho Capitol on Wednesday, in concert with similar protests across the nation in response to the school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.

“We have an opportunity here to send a message to our youth that we are concerned and we are listening and that we will do what we have within our power to protect them.” said Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls.

Senators voted on more than a dozen House-passed bills during their session Friday – passing all of them. The school threats bill drew by far the most impassioned debate.

“I hope this shares some knowledge with our kids about how important this is to us and for them, and how we will not stand for threats or acts of violence on our children at our schools,” Lee said.

While the bill had nearly unanimous support in the Senate, several House members from North Idaho opposed the measure in a vote on March 9, including Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Heather Scott, R-Blanchard.

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