Boothe, Mitchell support bomb threat bill

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2000

Staff Writer

Alabama legislators are working to make it a felony to call in a bomb threat.

Earlier this week, the Alabama Senate voted 32-0 to pass a bill that would increase the maximum penalty for making a bomb threat from one year in jail and a $2,000 fine to 10 years in prison with a $5,000 fine attached.

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The bill, sponsored by Sen. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, would change the misdemeanor charge to a felony.

During February, at least five teens and one adult were arrested for calling in bomb threats to Alabama schools. One of those occurred last Friday in Tuscaloosa, which Poole represents.

"We’re going to have to show them this isn’t a prank. It’s a crime," said Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, who had schools in his district closed twice because of bomb threats.

The bill has Gov. Don Siegelman’s endorsement.

"Acts that threaten our children’s safety are unacceptable to our parents, unacceptable to district attorneys and unacceptable to me," Siegelman said. "It’s a serious offense to call in a school bomb threat, and once this legislation is passed, the penalty will be serious too."

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, who represents Pike County, supported the bomb threat bill.

"After hearing the debate on this, I realized there was a real problem," Mitchell said.

He said the bill should set up a deterent so the problem doesn’t continue to grow.

The bill will go to the House of Representatives for a vote. If it passes there, Siegelman’s signature will make it law.

Pike County’s state representative is supporting the legislation.

"I certainly am," State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, said when asked if he is in favor of bomb threats being made a felony.

"I intend to fully support the bomb threat legislation," Boothe said. "We’ve got to do something."

Local school superintendents wish the problem could be prevented, but think the next best thing is increasing the penalty for doing it.

"I think it’s a great bill," said Hank Jones, superintendent of the Troy City Schools.

Jones knows well how much a bomb threat affects a school.

Last year, Charles Henderson Middle School experience that and, during a "horrible electrical storm" had to evacuate the school. The individual who called in the threat was caught, but age lessened the punishment he could receive.

"It can create such havoc," Jones said of bomb threats. "That’s why it needs to be a very serious offense.

"There needs to be a significant enough punishemnt that people will think twice before doing it."

John Key, superintendent of the Pike County school system, agrees that something musht be done and passing the legislation is a step in the right direction.

"Things you would never have dreamed would happen in schools are happening," Key said.

He said every bomb threat called in "creates so much havoc and turmoil" that something has to be done.

Key would personally like to see legislation put more money into detection devices, such as telephone monitoring, and have assistance from telephone companies in catching those who call in such threats.

Although Pike County schools have not experienced "many" bomb threats in the last couple of years, Key said the system does get some, which are generally "copy cat" crimes following an incident that gets national attention.