Fellela will introduce bill aiming to thwart false threats, statements against school children
STATE HOUSE – In response to disturbing threats made against elementary schools in three communities this week, Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) announced she will introduce a bill during the first week of the 2015 legislative session that would make it a felony for an individual to make a clear threat of physical harm against students in Rhode Island schools.
On Tuesday, Johnston Police received a letter threatening the physical harm of elementary school students in Johnston, Cranston and Warwick, triggering a security plan at each district elementary school today.
“The mental anguish each parent and guardian goes through when threats like these arise is unbearable,” Representative Fellela said. “I see and work with parents every day at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School in Providence, and I can tell you firsthand that these kinds of acts are very disturbing for parents, teachers, administrators and the students. More importantly, I’m a parent as well. The thought of any harm coming to my children would keep me awake at night, especially after what the world has seen in places like Sandy Hook. We saw a whole nation grieve with Connecticut, and I can’t bear the thought of Rhode Island going through the same thing. But if we can prevent these troubled individuals from making threats for the sake of making threats, maybe they can finally receive the help they need. Our children should never have to be afraid to attend school. That is their right in this country, and we must protect it."
The legislation, which will be pre-filed prior to the beginning of session in January, allows judges to sentence violators with up to 20 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. The presiding judge can also order restitution to any affected municipality that is forced to respond in light of a threat. The provisions would apply to any threats made against elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools in Rhode Island.
Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston) said he applauds Representative Fellela for taking the lead on this issue, adding: “As a representative in the city of Cranston, I am extremely concerned about the nature of these threats. These cowardly acts have the ability to unnerve and reverberate throughout a community. So the punishment here not only needs to fit the crime, but it also needs to work at deterring similar activities. I look forward to working very closely with Representative Fellela on this so that we can find effective ways to protect students, teachers and staff at our schools.”
The issue of school threats has also caught the attention of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester), who said he believes this bill should be a large priority for his committee.
“After speaking with Representative Fellela, I have assured her that her bill will be one of the first pieces of legislation up for consideration before the House Judiciary Committee in 2015,” Chairman Keable said. “This is an issue that needs to be thoroughly examined.”
Representative Fellela added, “What we have had to go through today provides proof of a very clear need for a more intimidating penalty. The people who make these kinds of threats are in need of serious attention, and I’m hoping that a stronger law will persuade them to seek healthier avenues to get that help.”
For more information, contact:
Brenna McCabe, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903