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Mooney seeks to toughen law on bomb threats

January 28, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - In the weeks after the Maryland General Assembly adjourned last year, the shootings at Columbine High touched off copycat threats at area schools.

The legislature had just passed a law to allow judges to suspend for up to six months the driving privileges of any juvenile convicted of making a bomb threat.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney believes the penalty should be tougher. He's hoping, in the wake of Columbine, his colleagues will agree.

Although last year's law also provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, Mooney said judges may be reluctant to impose jail time on juveniles. He also thinks withholding driving privileges is a more effective deterrent to teenagers.

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Mooney filed a bill Friday to increase the driving suspension to two years.

"Maybe that'll change the thinking. Two years is more of a deterrent to a kid who's 16," said Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

Mooney supported last year's bill, which passed the Senate with a two-year penalty that was scaled back to six months by the House Judiciary Committee.

The law didn't take effect until October, which was too late to apply in the rash of bomb threat arrests.

At least 16 area students were charged with making bomb threats and with related incidents that kept students away from school.

After one threat in May, nearly half of the students didn't show up at North Hagerstown High.

In addition to being dangerous, bomb threats are expensive, Mooney said, citing one study that showed for each hour a school is evacuated it costs school districts between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on the size of the school.

Another element to Mooney's bill would require offenders to make restitution to school districts for lost time.

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