As the Maine Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee debates an appropriate response to the rise in school bomb threats across the state, some members of the committee say school officials are overreacting to the threats.

The automatic evacuation of schools may be doing more damage than the threats themselves, according to committee members who met Feb. 1. The committee backed away from establishing more serious penalties that were recommended by a joint study commission that examined the problem last year.

The study commission reported that Maine schools received an “unprecedented” total of 193 bomb threats last year. Most were received at high schools, but bomb threats also were reported at middle and elementary schools. School officials estimated the cost of a lost school day at $25,000 and the total impact of bomb threats at close to $5 million.

At the Feb. 1 meeting, the legislative committee voted to table two versions of the study commission recommendations and agreed to form a subcommittee to develop a third bill to develop more suitable procedures to limit bomb threats. Among the recommendations the committee rejected were parental restitution up to $10,000, fast track treatment for court cases, and automatic suspension of driving, hunting and fishing licenses in bomb threat cases.

Committee Chairman Sen. Michael McAlevey, R-Waterboro, pushed the problem back to the schools “who don’t seem to have their arms around this.” He suggested that with 30,000 bomb threats last year in the United States and no bomb explosions, schools were overreacting to evacuate automatically. Another committee member called the study commission recommendations “too punitive.”

McAlevey called for the development of a standard risk assessment policy to determine when evacuation is necessary. He also endorsed a suggestion that the names of all juvenile offenders be made public. Under current state law, juvenile offenders are identified only in the most serious crimes.