Iowa’s law enforcement community is asking senators to establish a new penalty for making general threats directed at public places where people gather.
Individuals currently may be charged with arson for making a bomb threat and it is a crime in Iowa to threaten to terrorize or harass an intended victim, but Kelly Meyers, a lobbyist for the Iowa County Attorneys Association, said prosecutors are seeking a direct way to charge those who make general threats.
“Putting something out there maybe on social media, if you will. ‘You’d better not go to school tomorrow or bad stuff’s going to happen,'” she said, “or putting a threat out there that there could be a school shooting.”
Three senators reviewed the proposal this afternoon and all three endorsed the concept. Cyndi Pederson, a lobbyist for the Iowa Fraternal Order of Police who attended today’s subcommittee meeting, urged lawmakers to act.
“Any time you can add potential penalties for persons threatening public active shooter events I think is a good thing,” she said.
The bill as currently drafted calls for a felony charge against those accused of threatening serious injury or death to people in “a public place, school building or any occupied structure.” The Iowa Association for Justice, the group representing trial lawyers, is registered in opposition to the bill.
“If many of these school threats are a bullied kid who’s reaching out for help, do we really want to make them a felon?” Lisa Davis-Cook, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association for Justice, asked rhetorically during today’s meeting.
Bill backers say they’re open to a lesser charge.
“We do believe there needs to be something so these children or juveniles, if they are juveniles, have an opportunity to get treatment or help, if that’s what they need,” said Susan Cameron Daemen, a lobbyist for the Iowa Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association.
The bill will next be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.