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Penalties for making threats could stiffen this year

Connecticut state Senator Tony Hwang has promised to re-introduce legislation to toughen legal penalties for those convicted of making threats of violence against schools by adding language to the state's current threat laws. Hwang first introduced The Zero-Tolerance Safe School Environment Act in the last session. While it passed unanimously in the senate, the house never voted on it. The new legislative session is scheduled to begin on Feb. 3.

Hwang's announcement came three years after the massacre of 20 young children as well as six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012. Hwang represents Newtown as well as Easton, Fairfield, Weston and Westport. In October of last year, all 17 public schools in Fairfield were put on lockdown after a series of phone threats were reportedly made.

The proposed addition to state law would change first-degree threatening from a Class D felony to a Class C felony. Second-degree threatening, which is currently a Class A misdemeanor, would be a Class D felony. These changes would increase the potential penalties associated with those crimes.

Threats against schools, even when not carried out, can cause considerable fear, not to mention extra work for law enforcement and inconvenience for parents and children. They can also carry a heavy financial toll on already-strapped school districts. The December 2015 shutdown of Los Angeles schools after an anonymous e-mail threat reportedly cost the Los Angeles Unified School District (the country's second biggest) some $29 million. Officials in New York City and other cities that reportedly received the same threat considered it a hoax and chose not to take that action.

Hwang referenced the threats both here in Connecticut and elsewhere as actions that "reinforce the need to strengthen our laws in this area." He said that if someone commits "such a despicable act, they should face severe penalties that bring the punishment more in line with the crime."

People make threats for all sorts of ill-advised reasons. In this digital age, it's not difficult to hide your identity when making threats. However, it's also not difficult to make it appear that they came from someone else. If you or a loved one is accused of making threats of violence, regardless of the circumstance, it's essential to take the charges seriously and not to face them without the support of an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney.

Source: Minuteman News Center, "Hwang renews call for safe schools legislation," Dec. 25, 2015

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