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Hettrick proposes legislation to toughen penalties for making threats at schools

by Scott Murphy

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick wants to give police another tool to prosecute students who make threats at schools.

Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said Douglas County Attorney Scott Doyle and Sheriff Ron Pierini want improvements in existing Nevada law.

The request was sparked by a recent incident at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in which a student allegedly wrote a “hit list” directed at students and at least one faculty member.

The proposal would make issuing a threat a gross misdemeanor, punishable for adults by a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Under existing law, threatening another student is a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

When a threat is communicated by the perpetrator to someone other than the victim, it would be a misdemeanor.

“People have to know there is a consequence,” Hettrick said. “There is too much risk in today’s society.”

Unlike the adult judicial system, there is little difference in the punishment for juveniles charged with a gross or regular misdemeanor.

However, law enforcement needs a way to act on such incidents without waiting for them to escalate, Doyle said.

“It’s another investigative tool,” he said. “One of the key things that law enforcement is learning is that prompt and effective intervention by school and law enforcement authorities is critical.”

The amendment’s language was provided to Hettrick by Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Stan Lamb, who is the sheriff’s office liaison with the Douglas County School District.

Hettrick’s proposal needs to be introduced as an amendment to an existing bill. The search for such a bill is still under way, a member of Hettrick’s staff said Thursday.

The language needs to be attached to existing legislation because the deadline to introduce new state legislative bills has passed.

Hettrick wants to ensure students who simply make a general statement of frustration aren’t prosecuted.

However, the Gardnerville Republican wants to simplify the process for law enforcement to prosecute kids who threaten other students.

Doyle said the bill is focused on crimes at school because it outlines potential suspects and victims as pupils or employees of a school.

“It’s a very narrow field involved,” he said.

In the wake of the Pau-Wa-Lu incident, the sheriff and his deputies discussed the situation and thought it was a good idea to submit the legislation during the current session, Doyle said.