As Nevada lawmakers rushed to take final action on bills May 28, a Senate panel took testimony on a measure to protect students, teachers, or others who report potential school safety threats.
Senate Bill 572, exempted from the May 28 deadline for final action, was pushed by Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that people fear retaliation when reporting rumors of potential violence at schools.
The measure stems from a California case in which parents of a student who reported a threat were sued for defamation. Legislators in that state have introduced a similar measure.
“This bill sets an important policy statement that those who come forward with information will not be ignored or punished,” Wiener said.
In 75 percent of recent school shootings studied by the U.S. Secret Service, the shooters had told someone in advance what they were planning, she said, noting that the person who was warned passed that information on to authorities in only two cases.
Capt. Jim Nadeau of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department said he supports the bill, adding that the bravado of students who make such threats often leads them to talk about their plans beforehand.
He told the committee that dealing with the attitude at schools is becoming more like airport security, where people are prohibited from even joking about threats.
The measure was sought by the state Commission on School Safety and Juvenile Violence, a panel created by emergency legislation in 1999 following the April 1999 massacre of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. The two student gunmen killed themselves.
Annie Rees, a member of the commission, said she hopes the measure will encourage everyone from school bus drivers to parents to speak out when they hear of potential school violence.
“I still see the attitude of ‘I don’t want my child involved,'” Rees said, adding that this attitude will get worse if suing for defamation in such cases becomes commonplace.