RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Flanked by students, parents, educators, school administrators and members of the General Assembly, Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law today seven pieces of legislation passed during the 2011 General Assembly session that offer additional protections to students in Virginia's public and private schools.
The new legislation focuses on reducing risks for Virginia students by making it illegal for sex offenders to operate or ride on school buses, increases penalties for drivers who pass stopped school buses, makes certain drugs and bath salts controlled substances, expands existing laws making obscene language sent by electronic means a crime, and provides localities the ability to install video cameras on buses to protect students. Additional legislation requires a survey of students to be conducted by the Department of Health to identify other risk factors faced by students and improve substance abuse programs.
"The foremost obligation of government is public safety, and protecting our youngest citizens so that they may focus on their education is a moral obligation for all Virginians," said Governor McDonnell. "We are charged with protecting more than 1.3 million students in Virginia's schools, so it is vital that law enforcement has additional tools available to combat the potential violence and crimes that can make our institutions of learning scary places for students."
Delegate Rob Bell, sponsor of legislation to restrict sex offenders' access to school buses and to expand laws making obscene language sent by electronic means a crime, said, "Students should not only be protected when they are in the school building, but when they are traveling to and from their school and when interacting with other students. We must create an atmosphere conducive to learning and ensure that each child has the opportunity to safely thrive in their school environment."
Delegate Scott Garrett added, "Children are faced with many choices and temptations when attending schools. The bills signed today include provisions restricting access to certain drugs and products that students have used to get high. These statutory changes will help keep students from getting in trouble, or worse, from harming themselves or their peers. We must strive to make the school environment a safe haven for our children."
The new laws will go into effect July 1, 2011 (HB1434 & SB745 are effective as of March 23, 2011).
School Safety Legislation Signed Today:
HB2043 (Anderson)/SB769 (Marsden) – Reckless driving for failing to stop at a school bus
- Provides that a person driving a motor vehicle shall stop his vehicle when approaching, from any direction, any school bus that is stopped on any highway, private road, or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, etc., and remain stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road, or school driveway and the bus is put in motion
- Failure to do so is reckless driving
HB1911 (J. Miller)/SB946 (Howell) – Video-monitoring on school buses
- Authorizes localities to adopt ordinances to allow local school divisions to install and operate video-monitoring systems on school buses in order to detect drivers passing stopped school buses
HB2066 (R. Bell)/SB1185 (Norment) – Prohibiting sex offenders on school buses
- Expands the prohibition on entry onto school grounds by any adult convicted of a sexually violent offense to include any school bus as defined in § 46.2-100 and any property, public or private, during hours when such property is being used solely by a public or private elementary or secondary school for a school-related or school-sponsored activity
- A violation is punishable as a Class 6 felony
HB2059 (R. Bell) – Extends existing prohibition on use of obscene language
- Clarifies that the current statutory provision prohibiting the use of obscene, vulgar, or indecent language over the telephone applies to electronic communications, including visual or electronic messages, received or transmitted by a cellular phone or other wireless telecommunications device
HB2026 (May) – Prohibits sex offenders from operating school buses
- Prohibits persons for whom registration with the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry is required from driving school buses and from being issued commercial driver's licenses and instruction permits to drive school buses
HB1434 (Garrett)/SB745 (Herring) – Banning synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts
- The legislation lists those chemicals that comprise synthetic cannabinoids and makes possession a Class 1 misdemeanor and possession with intent to distribute and manufacturing a felony
- The bill adds chemicals known as "bath salts" to Schedule I of the Drug Control Act
- This legislation became effective upon approval on March 23, 2011
SB1094 (Hanger) – Youth health risk survey
- Requires the Department of Health to develop and administer a random survey of students in public middle and high schools to facilitate planning and implementation of effective programs for substance abuse prevention through collection of information identifying trends in alcohol, tobacco and other drug use and the assessment of risk and protective factors among youth of the Commonwealth