By Blake Belden
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell has approved at least six bills and proposed revisions to at least three others aimed at improving school security and creating a safe campus environment.
McDonnell had until midnight Monday to act on legislation passed by the General Assembly during its 2013 regular session. Among other measures, the governor signed a half-dozen bills that had been recommended by the School and Campus Safety Task Force that he created in December. These bills will take effect July 1:
- SB 1078, sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, will require the State Board for Community Colleges to craft a policy to raise awareness about mental health needs among community college student and faculty members. The law also requires each community college to have at least one individual who acts as a contact point on mental health issues.
- SB 1376, introduced by Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield, will exempt school officials and individuals from civil liability for reporting or investigating the threat of another individual on school property as long as it is done without malice.
- HB 1582, introduced by Delegate Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, will allow security officers hired by schools to carry firearms on school property. The law also prevents the Board of Social Services from preventing day-care centers from hiring an armed security officer.
- HB 1871, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, provides a legal definition for “bullying” and requires public schools to enforce penalties related to incidences of bullying. The definition of “bullying” includes “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate or humiliate the victim.”
- HB 2343, introduced by Delegate Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, will establish the School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund and the Local School Safety Fund. These funds will be distributed in the form of grants and loans necessary to enhance a school building’s overall security as well as violence prevention measures.
- HB 2346, introduced by Delegate Margaret Ransone, R-Kinsale, requires public schools to undergo inspections by a school safety audit committee in accordance with a standardized checklist. The law also requires all public schools to conduct at least two lock-down drills each school year.
McDonnell also wrote recommendations for a number of other bills suggested by the School and Campus Safety Task Force. These proposed revisions will be considered by the General Assembly when it reconvenes April 3. The governor recommended modifying such bills as:
- SB 1378, introduced by Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg. It would increase the penalty for “straw purchases” of a firearm, in which the buyer intends to resell the weapon to someone who is ineligible to have a gun. McDonnell’s recommendation makes it clear that this would not apply to adults buying guns for their children or grandchildren.
- HB 1609, introduced by Delegate Tim Hugo, R-Centreville. As passed, the bill said, “The governing board of each public four-year institution of higher education may establish a written memorandum of understanding with its local community services board or behavioral health authority and with local hospitals and other local mental health facilities in order to expand the scope of services available to students seeking treatment.” McDonnell recommended changing “may” to “shall” – thus requiring colleges and universities to forge such agreements.
- HB 2347, proposed by Delegate David Ramadan, R-South Riding, would allow school principals to pass along to campus police officers information provided by juvenile intake officers about the criminal activity of currently enrolled students. The governor’s recommendation makes it clear that private school administrators also could share this information.
McDonnell created the School and Campus Safety Task Force in response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The group submitted an initial round of recommendations to McDonnell on Jan. 31. It will issue a final report by June.