Legislation supported by VACo that aims to discourage and hold individuals accountable for making false reports that result in the deployment of law enforcement or other first responders is advancing through both chambers of the General Assembly.
HB 1590 (Sullivan) / SB 1034 (McPike) modernize the harassing phone call statute to include any communications that may ring or otherwise signal or alert. Under current law, only telephones and digital pagers are included within the ambit of the statute. These good government bills will help discourage harassment of Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) employees, which ties up local government resources and increases employee burnout. HB 1590 passed the House unanimously and was most recently reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee, unanimously, 11-0. SB 1034 passed the Senate unanimously and was referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee.
HB 1572 (Walker) / SB 1291 (Deeds) create a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person to knowingly report, or cause another to report in reliance on intentionally false information provided by such person, a false emergency communication to any emergency personnel that results in an emergency response. The bills make it is a Class 6 felony if such false emergency communication results in an emergency response during which and because of such emergency response any person suffers a serious bodily injury and a Class 5 felony if any person is killed. The bills authorize any locality to provide by ordinance that a person convicted of such false emergency communication shall be liable for the reasonable expense in responding to such false emergency communication. HB 1572 passed the House on a vote of 92-6 and has not yet been referred to a Senate Committee. SB 1291 passed the Senate unanimously on a vote of 40-0 and has not yet been referred to a House Committee.
The problem of false reporting, also known as “swatting,” was brought to VACo’s attention during our legislative process by Arlington County. Individuals targeted schools in Arlington County and elsewhere with false reporting of threats that led to the deployment of significant county resources to ensure public safety. These bills are meant to modernize and close loopholes in Code that will hopefully discourage this practice in Virginia going forward. VACo supports these efforts and has testified in favor of the bills.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett