Lawmakers launch flurry of activity aimed at school safety
HARRISBURG — With another mass school shooting spurring them, lawmakers engaged in a spate of activity Tuesday aimed at making schools safer from threats of violence.
Several senators and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a Capitol press conference to tout the need for a “Safe2Say” statewide program to accept anonymous tips about potential threatening activities in schools.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee wrapped up hearings on the topics of public safety and gun violence, while several House lawmakers and advocates held a press conference to urge action on House Bill 2227, which would allow a court to issue extreme risk protection orders to temporarily seize the guns of someone who is a danger to themselves or others.
All this activity came just a few days after another shooting at a Texas high school that left 10 dead and spurred more public hand-wringing over protecting students.
Senate Bill 1142, sponsored by Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, would establish the Safe2Say program within the attorney general’s office to receive potentially thousands of anonymous reports and tips about potential threats to school safety. The bill contains provisions to protect the anonymity of informants and provides a misdemeanor of the third degree offense if a person knowingly or intentionally makes a false report.
The attorney general’s office would follow guidelines to forward the information to local law enforcement, school officials or other organizations under the bill.
Browne said the Senate planned to vote on SB1142 Tuesday, but later Senate GOP Caucus spokeswoman Jenn Kocher said discussion of a possible amendment delayed that vote.
The bill carries a fiscal note of $1.1 million annually. Shapiro said he plans to hire 13 staffers to run a hotline on a 24/7 basis at an estimated cost of $1 million. The cost of obtaining software to receive reports is estimated at $105,000.
“This legislation is a proven model,” said Browne, referring to a Colorado reporting program that has received 30,000 reports since 2004.
The bill provides a “portal so if citizens see something they can say something,” said Shapiro.
The key to the program’s success is making sure people are aware it actually exists, said Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, plans to prepare a package of public safety bills to be introduced in the first or second week of June, said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Lehigh.
Supporters of HB2227, the so-called “red flag” bill sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, called for Judiciary Committee action on the bill.
The legislation provides a quick way to get people into court who could pose a threat while protecting their rights, said Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo.
“These bills are called ‘red flag’ bills for a reason,” said Marybeth Christiansen, legislative director for Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group.
A red flag can go up if someone faces a personal crisis, has a mental health issue or is just plain angry, she added.