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COMSTOCK FOR DELEGATE BLOG

2013 General Assembly Overview of Legislation Promoting School Safety
Sunday, March 17, 2013

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Richmond Office:
General Assembly Building
#406
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-1034

District Office:
PO Box 6156
McLean, VA 22106
(703) 772-7168

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting me about your concerns about tragic events involving school violence. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

In December, the Governor established a multidisciplinary task force to review school and campus safety in light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The Governor also established a separate mental health workgroup. The Mental Health Workgroup was tasked with evaluating Virginia's mental health system to recommend improvements for identification, intervention, and treatment of behavioral and mental disabilities with a focus on ways to prevent acts of violence.

I wanted to provide an overview of actions we took this legislative session to provide for school safety and address some of the underlying problems present in these situations.

School Resource Officer Grant Initiative

In our budget the House of Delegates proposed $31 million in new funding for school security including $1.7 million for the existing School Resource Officer Grant Initiative and $30 million to create a revolving fund to provide for security infrastructure projects in schools throughout the Commonwealth so we expand the school resource officer program we already have in our high schools and junior highs into our elementary schools. This money was included in the final budget. Additional funding for the School Resource Officer Initiative was also a recommendation of the Governor's task force on school safety.

As you may know, Fairfax and Loudoun County already have School Resource Officers in our junior high and high schools and they have been very successful in identifying problem situations in our schools from drugs to gang activity and bullying or even human trafficking incidents. This new funding will allow us to expand the School Resource Officer program to our elementary schools also.

Mental Health Initiative

I sponsored legislation, House Bill 1609, which would improve coordination between public four-year higher education institutions, mental health facilities, and local hospitals. It aims to create a safer and more supportive school environment to prevent future tragedies. House Bill 1609 passed the House by a wide bipartisan margin of 99-0, and passed the Senate as well, 40-0. It will be sent to Governor McDonnell to sign. James Madison University students came by my office to lobby on this bill. It was their special project as well as their priority to see this bill pass in the General Assembly this year and I am pleased we were able to do so.

Virginia's Mental Health Database

Virginia, a pioneer in the background check system among states, is a leader in arrests of people who were stopped from illegally buying a gun. In the wake of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, Virginia developed a database that links mental health records to databases used in gun sale background checks. The Commonwealth ranked first among nine states that reported making arrests for one or more years during 2000-2010, according to the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report on Background Checks for Firearm Transfers. From 1989 through the end of 2012, Virginia state police have made 12,956 arrests related to the sale or attempted sale of firearms as a result of denied firearm transactions.

The number of denials involving felons trying to purchase guns rose from 420 in 2007 to 609 last year. Mental health denials have tripled during that period, from 109 to 340, as Virginia has added more mental health records into its background check system, which totaled 185,776 individuals in February, 2013.

People with mental health issues, such as those committed for treatment or judged to be mentally incapacitated or incompetent, are prohibited from buying firearms. We must always remain vigilant in this area and enforce our laws when they are violated.

Increasing Penalties and Enforcement On "Strawman" Purchases And Illegal Firearms Sales

My colleagues and I also passed Senate Bill 1378 which provides that any person who sells, barters, gives, etc., any firearm to any person he knows is prohibited from possessing or transporting a firearm under Virginia law is guilty of a Class 4 felony. The bill also provides that a person who engages in the "strawman" purchase of a firearm, where he purchases a firearm with the intent to resell or transport with the intent to resell outside of the Commonwealth to any person he knows is prohibited from purchasing a firearm, is guilty of a Class 4 felony and shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of one year. Status: Passed the Senate on 2/15/13, 39-0; Passed the House on 2/20/13, 84-11. It will now be sent to the Governor to sign.

School Safety Legislation

These are other bills we passed regarding school safety:

  • School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund and Local School Safety Fund (HB 2343): This bill creates the School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund and the Local School Safety Fund, which will be funded with $30 million to help schools improve security infrastructure. Status: Passed the House on 2/18/13,100-0; Passed the Senate with Amendment on 2/21/13, 38-0. It will now be sent to the Governor to sign.
  • Threat assessment teams and oversight committees (HB 2344): This bill requires local school divisions to create threat assessment teams and oversight committees to assess and oversee school safety threats. Status: Passed the House on 2/18/13, 78-19; Passed Senate with substitute with Amendment on 2/21/13, 40-0. It will now be sent to the Governor to sign.
  • Critical incident response training program (HB 2345): This bill develops a model critical incident response training program so our local school leaders and teachers know how to respond in the event of an emergency.
    Status: Passed the House on 2/18/13, 100-0; Passed the Senate with Amendments on 2/21/13, 40-0. It will now be sent to the Governor to sign.
  • Lockdown drill practice requirement (HB 2346): This bill requires every public school to hold two lockdown drill practices each year so students and teachers understand how to respond in the event of an emergency.
    Status: Passed the House, on 2/15/13, 100-0; Passed the Senate with substitute on 2/21/13, 40-0. It will now be sent to the Governor to sign.
  • Juvenile law-enforcement records (HB 2347):This bill provides that, in addition to disclosures of juvenile law-enforcement records that may already be made by chiefs of police and sheriffs to school principals, those same records (involving violent crimes, arson crimes and firearm crimes) may also be released by the principal of the school to threat assessment teams established by the local school division. The bill contains a second enactment clause that provides that the passage of the bill is dependent on the passage of another measure still pending before the General Assembly containing language necessary to the implementation of this bill.
    Status: Passed the House on 2/19/13, 94-3; Passed the Senate with amendment on 2/21/13, 39-0. It will now be sent to the Governor to sign.

By strengthening both our enforcement provisions and mental health provisions, as well as providing additional school resource officers and increased penalties on those who do not follow our laws, we will provide more tools and resources to work to prevent tragic incidents.

Thank you again for contacting me. I always appreciate hearing from my constituents. I would also like to invite you to visit my website, www.delegatecomstock.com, to sign up for email updates and to let us know of your views on other issues that may be of concern to you. If I may ever be of assistance in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me at delbcomstock@house.virginia.gov or 703-772-7168.

Sincerely,

Signature

Barbara Comstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 









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