Responding to threats made against elementary school children in their three communities, State Senators from Cranston, Warwick and Johnston said they will sponsor legislation setting harsh penalties for anyone threatening physical harm to students.
The legislation, they said, will propose making it a felony for an individual to make a clear threat of physical injury against school children, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 20 years and/or a fine of up to $100,000. The legislation, which is expected to be introduced during the first week of the 2015 General Assembly session that begins in January, is being prepared by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Sen. Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick) and Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).
Earlier this week, Johnston police reported receiving a letter threatening to harm elementary school students inJohnston, Cranston and Warwick, which triggered a security plan at each district elementary school that included police presence, and that also led to a substantial drop in attendance at schools throughout the three communities.
In addition to the local police, an investigation into the letter threat is also being conducted by the Rhode Island State Police and postal officials.
“At this point, no one is certain whether these threats are real or not, but the anguish it is causing for children and parents and the disruption it is causing in the school systems is horrendous,” said Senator Gallo, who championed school safety legislation enacted this session. “Anyone who would do this, for whatever reason, deserves swift and stern punishment.”
The announcement by the five Senators follows by a day a statement by Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) that she will introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives in January. The Senators said they will work with their House colleagues for quick passage and enactment of such legislation. President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Speaker of the House Nicholas A. Mattiello are supporting their work.
“We live in a scary world, but we want our school children, and their parents, to feel that schools are places where children are safe and protected,” said Senator Lombardo. “I can’t begin to imagine how unsettling this is for the children at these schools and their parents and school employees. But I can tell you how angry I am that this has happened and how intent I am on seeing that the perpetrators, when found, get the stiffest punishment we can mete out.”
Senator Walaska said he and his Senate colleagues will “have legislation drafted and ready for consideration on Day One of the new session. I can’t think of many things more despicable than threatening young, innocent children and I want our laws to reflect how seriously we are taking this kind of threat, false or otherwise.”
“It may not be possible to prevent sick, misguided individuals from doing something like this,” said Senator Lynch, “but the individuals responsible for these kinds of threats need to know that, when caught, they will face the harshest punishment possible. We are taking this very seriously and we are very serious about passing this law.”
Senator McCaffrey said that he is “confident that law enforcement will find the cowards who have done this and confident that law enforcement and school administrators will continue to keep our school children safe. Passing this legislation will be a priority in the Senate, as I am sure it will be in the House.”