RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates passed a bill significantly rewriting a section of Virginia law that handles crimes committed on school property and how officials report those offenses to law enforcement and parents. On Tuesday, eight Democrats crossed the aisle to help pass the bill, 59 to 40.
The legislation is a response to a Republican campaign promise from 2021 after conservatives accused Loudoun County Public Schools officials of mishandling sexual assault cases. Republicans criticized 2020 bills HB 257 and SB 729, from Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) and State Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond.) The bills changed Virginia law so that principals were only required to report felonies. In January 2020, Mullins said in committee that the bill was meant to keep students from facing overly harsh criminal justice consequences
“This bill requires reporting of any felony marijuana controlled substance, also requires the reporting of any shooting, stabbing, sexual assault, cutting, wounding of any person, any abduction or stalking any threats against school personnel, the carrying of a firearm, illegal conduct including explosive threats or false threats to bomb,” HB 4 sponsor Delegate Scott Wyatt (R-Hanover) said on the House floor Monday.
On Monday, Delegates Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke City) and Vivian Watts (D-Annandale) worried that the bill was overly broad and might hamper efforts to reduce the school to prison pipeline. Rasoul proposed an amendment that would remove sections of the bill referring to verbal threats, and said he was concerned that section would lead to students with disabilities who made threats being reported to law enforcement.
“This specific language is just too broad,” Rasoul said.
Delegate Robert Bell (R-Albemarle) said that the courts have clearly defined what constitutes threats, and spoke against Rasoul’s amendment.
“Now we talk a good talk in this place about looking out for teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, but when it comes to someone making a credible threat directly to them to do violence, death, and it meets the court standard, if this amendment passes, we’re saying, ‘It’s part of your job description. Suck it up,” Bell said.
The House defeated Rasoul’s amendment on Monday.
After the vote to pass the bill Tuesday, House Republicans celebrated in a press release.
“When House Bill 257 passed in 2020, it was clear that this bill would be a disaster for school safety. Parents were rightly outraged, and we immediately pledged that, if we were returned to the majority, we would fix this bill as soon as possible. Today, I’m proud to say we’ve taken the first steps toward fulfilling that promise by passing the bill over to the Senate,” Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said.
Wyatt said, “Parents spoke, and Republicans listened. That was the genesis of House Bill 4, and the reason House Republicans fought so hard to see it all the way through the process. And while I’m proud that we’ve passed the bill, I’m deeply concerned that there are still 40 House Democrats who voted against undoing this awful part of their 2020 agenda. I hope they’ll eventually listen to parents.”
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