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Siegelman to sign bomb threat bill in Troy

Staff Writer

The person who called in a bomb threat to Charles Henderson Middle School last year would have faced a harsher penalty if legislation which will be signed by Gov. Don Siegelman Monday morning had been in place.

Although the individual accused of calling in that threat during a thunderstorm was caught, the punishment would have been more severe under legislation passed by both houses of the Alabama Legislature.

For that reason, Siegelman has selected CHMS as the location to sign his name to the legislation, making it a felony to call in a bomb threat in Alabama. He will sign the bomb threat legislation at 8:45 a.m.

This past Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 96-0 to pass a bill that will 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.

Rep. Howard Hawk, D-Arab, has been trying to get the legislation passed for several years because of the change in attitudes regarding school violence.

He said juvenile offenders will be sentenced to "some type of detention."

The Alabama Senate previously voted 32-0 to pass the bill, sponsored by Sen. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, will change the misdemeanor charge to a felony once Siegelman signs it into law.

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

Since Siegelman has endorsed the bill as part of his crime package, the governor is expected to sign the legislation relatively quickly.

"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."

Both members of Pike County’s legislative delegation supported the bill.

"After hearing the debate on this, I realized there was a real problem," said Pike County’s State Sen. Wendell Mitchell.

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

State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, believes perpetrators need to be punished for what they consider a prank.

"I was glad to see that legislation pass," Boothe said.

He said anyone who calls in a bomb threat "should be dealt with and dealt with severely."

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.