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School security measures pass Senate panel

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By Landmark News Service

RICHMOND – A Virginia legislative committee has advanced three bills intended to improve school safety.
The bills were recommended by a task force appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell in response to the December mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
The bills endorsed Feb. 11 by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee include:
• Senate Bill 1378, which increases penalties for all “straw-man” gun transactions, which occur when a person lawfully purchases a gun with the intent of selling or transferring it to someone legally barred from buying a gun. The bill also adds a mandatory one-year jail term for the purchaser and 10-year mandatory minimum for the ineligible person if the transaction involves multiple firearms.
• Senate Bill 1377, which creates a new criminal offense for entering a school while armed or in possession of an explosive device with the intent to commit a violent felony. The felony offense would carry a prison term of five to 20 years.
• Senate Bill 1376, which extends civil immunity to a person who reports information about an individual posing a credible danger of serious bodily injury or death to one or more students or others on school property.
The governor submitted these and five other pieces of legislation to the General Assembly on Feb. 8. The bills implement recommendations of the school and campus safety task force he appointed shortly after the Dec. 14 mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“The proposals I’m making to the General Assembly will make schools and campuses in the commonwealth safer,” McDonnell said. “They will also provide the resources necessary to assist our first responders, educators and mental health professionals in protecting our schools.”
Other bills submitted to the General Assembly by the school and campus safety task force include:
• House Bill 2343, in which McDonnell calls for the creation of a fund to provide grants or loans to localities for security upgrades to older school facilities. In its budget bill, the House of Delegates has approved the first phase of a five-year, $30 million grant program for school security infrastructure. School divisions would be able to apply for grants of up to $100,000 and would have to provide a 25 percent local match.
• House Bill 2346, which mandates that local school divisions to have lockdown drills at least once a semester and to have a designated emergency manager responsible for coordinating school preparedness.
• House Bill 2345, which calls for the state to develop a model critical incident response training program for school personnel and those providing services to schools. Del. Joseph Yost (R-Blacksburg), who serves on McDonnell’s task force, will sponsor the bill.
• House Bill 2344, which requires school boards to establish a violence prevention committee and threat assessment teams similar to those created at public colleges after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
• House Bill 2347, which requires juvenile intake officers to share information with campus police chiefs or public school officials about a student’s dangerous or criminal behavior.