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Cunningham advances measure to crack down on school violence threats made on social media

cunningham 050919SPRINGFIELD – A measure sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham that seeks to deter threats from being made against schools on social media was approved by the Senate Criminal Law Committee Tuesday.

“False threats against our schools not only cause a panic, but also trigger costly emergency responses that divert first responders’ attention away from situations where they’re really needed,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “School safety is a serious issue and we need to do all we can to deter false threats from being made.”

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.

“Police and health care providers need to work together to determine whether or not a threat is legitimate,” Cunningham said. “We need to use every tool available to make sure our students aren’t at risk.”

The measure will now go before the entire Senate.

Senator Bill Cunningham

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18th Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Agriculture; Energy and Public Utilities (Chairperson); Executive Appointments; Higher Education; Insurance; State Government.

Biography: Served in the House from 2011-13; full-time state legislator and lifelong resident of the southwest Chicago area; born July 21, 1967; graduate of Saint Barnabas Grammar School (1981), Mount Carmel High School (1985) and the University of Illinois Chicago (1990); former advisor to Cook CountySheriff Mike Sheahan and former chief of staff to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; youth soccer coach; parent representative on the Sutherland Local School Council; lives in Beverly with wife, Juliana, and two daughters, Madeline and Olivia.

Associated Representatives:
Kelly M. Burke
Frances Ann Hurley