03012018CM0353SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate passed a measure sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham that would help deter false threats from being made against schools on social media.

“These false threats are terrifying for students, faculty and parents and they divert emergency response resources away from where they’re needed,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “There needs to be a mechanism that punishes bad actors and deters these scares from happening.”

Under Illinois law, a person commits the offense of disorderly conduct when he or she calls 911 for the purpose of making a false complaint or providing false information, including a threat against a school.

House Bill 1579 expands the offense to include threats made on any platform, including social media. Current law only covers threats made by telephone or threats that specifically mention the use a bomb.

If an individual is convicted of transmitting a false threat, he or she must also pay for the costs of the emergency response the threat triggered.

In drafting the legislation, Cunningham worked closely with Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan, whose department heightened security measures at local schools several times last year due to threats on social media.

“According to law enforcement in my district, threats of violence against schools are increasingly coming through social media rather than the phone and make no mention of a bomb,” Cunningham said. “We’re in the social media age right now and this trend is only going to continue. We need to update our laws to reflect modern concerns.”

The measure further allows the court to order a mental health evaluation for a minor charged with disorderly conduct for transmitting a threat to a school.

“Threats to schools are often linked to mental health issues that need to be treated for the well-being of both the individual making the threat and those around them,” Cunningham said. “This provision will empower law enforcement and mental health professionals to work together to find the best course of action in dealing with a school threat.”

The measure passed the Senate unanimously.

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