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New Penalties In New York For False Bomb Threats To Community Centers

Governor Andrew Cuomo
Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a measure that would create new penalties for people who make bomb threats against community centers. The action stems from bomb threats made to Jewish Community Centers in New York and around the nation last winter.

Cuomo, in a statement, says anyone who falsely makes bomb threats to a community center can now be charged with a class A misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to a year in jail.

For Assembly Sponsor Amy Paulin, of Westchester, the bomb threats last winter became personal. Her local JCC, one mile from her home, where she swims and sends her children to classes, was among those targeted.

She says at the time that bomb threat was called in, there were toddlers, nursey school children and seniors in the building, who had to be evacuated.

“These are busy intersections and they had to march all these children to safety,” Paulin said. “And that’s scary, too.”

Senator Patrick Gallivan the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, is a former Erie County Sherriff. He says he was surprised to learn that there is no actual law against calling a bomb threat into a community center.

“Come to find out, there was not a law in place that actually covered this,” Gallivan said.

Gallivan, from Western New York, says the measure adds community centers of all types to an existing law that covers bomb threats to public gathering spaces including schools, parks and hotels.

“The legislation actually changes the definition of public place,” said Gallivan, who says now if someone calls in a false bomb threat they can be “charged with an offense under the penal law”.

In the cases last winter, an Israeli teenager was eventually caught and charged with making some of the threats as part of a profit making business on an illegal Internet site.

But the sponsors of the bill say they think in the current political climate that included three deaths in Charlottesville, Virginia during a white supremacist rally over the weekend, people are right to be worried that something like the false bomb threats might happen again.

President Trump on Monday called out the Charlottesville demonstrators, saying racism is “evil” and the KKK, neo Nazis and white supremacists are “repugnant” to American values. Trump was under pressure for not naming the groups or specifically condemning them after violence erupted Saturday.

Gallivan, a Republican, says he’s happy that the President spoke out more strongly.

Gallivan says he thought the President’s initial comments were “appropriate,”  but he says he can he “understand” why some people did not think the President went far enough, and were upset.

“He’s been very strong and unequivocal,” Gallivan said.

Paulin, a Democrat, agrees that Trump said the right things Monday, but she says it should have happened sooner.

“It’s just a little shocking that is took all this public pressure to get him to do that,” Paulin said. “We need a strong leader to call it hatred when it is. Whatever side it’s on, whoever is doing it.”    

Both Paulin and Gallivan say that everyone needs to dial back the rhetoric.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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