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Summary: Occasionally, false bomb threats are called in at institutions of higher education. Under current law in Section 42.06(b) of the Penal Code, "a person commits an offense if he knowingly initiates, communicates or circulates a report of a present, past, or future bombing, fire, offense, or other emergency that he knows is false or baseless and that would ordinarily." An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor. HB 1284 makes this offense a state jail felony if the false bomb threat is made at a public or private institution of higher education. Additionally, HB 1284 requires these institutions to inform their students of the change in penalty.
Analysis: The State of Texas has one of the largest prison populations in the nation. A conviction of a Class A misdemeanor in Texas comes with a fine up to $4,000 and the possibility of a jail sentence of up to 1 year. A conviction of a state jail felony in Texas comes with a fine up to $10,000 and a jail sentence between 180 days to 2 years. TPPA agrees that a substantial deterrent must exist to prevent false bomb threats against institutions of higher education. We have reservations as to whether bumping the penalty up to a state jail felony is the best deterrent. A more effective deterrent may be to require an offender to pay for the time and resources spent investigating and responding to the false bomb threat. Such a penalty would prevent taxpayers from having to pay for the costs of the false bomb threat and the costs of incarcerating the offenders. Instead of possibly increasing Texas' prison population and adding extra costs to the taxpayer, the an increased financial penalty may provide a better level of deterrence and a more fitting punishment.
While we have policy reservations about this legislation, we recognize that enhancing the penalty for a crime of this nature is well within the proper scope of government and that offenders do and should bear a great deal of personal responsibility for their actions. We recommend legislators support HB 1284.