Some lawmakers want to make falsely reporting a crime that leads to an evacuation, shutdown or lockdown a felony in Maine.
Most of the testimony for this bill centered around last November when a massive “swatting” hoax affected 16 communities, including Portland.
Someone called law enforcement and falsely reported there was an active shooting. Yarmouth High School freshman Katya Fromuth said that fake threat led to real fear at the time, which lingered in the days to follow.
“Maine has gotten lucky,” Fromuth said. “We have not yet fallen victim to a school shooting, only terrifying hoaxes.”
More than 300,000 students have experienced gun violence at schools since 1999, according to the Washington Post.
“The people responsible for locking down schools based on false information are preying on the fear and trauma built into our culture after decades of truly horrific tragedies,” Maine Education Association General Counsel Ben Grant said.
Multiple groups say other laws, like terrorizing, don’t cover these fake threats.
“So if I said, ‘I am going to kill you,’ that could be considered terrorizing,” Shira Burns of the Maine Prosecutors Association said. “Swatting, though, is a different situation.”
The bill, LD 405, and an amendment to it would update the state’s current false public alarm law, which hasn’t changed in nearly five decades.
“I wanted to make sure we had the legal tools to capture this conduct,” Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, said.
Calling an emergency communications center or 911 to report fake information that leads to an evacuation, shutdown or lockdown, or generates an emergency response, would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
“I think it would have a deterrent effect if people knew that it was a felony,” Carney said.
That’s why students like Fromuth want lawmakers to pass this bill.
“Doing this would send a message to copycats of hoaxes around the world that we will not tolerate any more of this domestic terrorism,” Fromuth said.
The ACLU of Maine testified in opposition, arguing it wouldn’t stop these incidents from happening and the group believes the current law covers this.
While the focus was on schools, this would also apply to other public spaces like parks, public transportation and other buildings or places where people gather.