House Passes Bill Requiring 30-Minute Emergency Notice

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Feb. 7 that would require colleges and universities to issue public warnings within 30 minutes of an emergency or threat, as well as notify the public with more campus safety information.

The bill, titled The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, is a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which determines the conditions schools must meet in order to receive federal funds. H.R. 4137, which is several hundred pages, includes amendments to the federal Jeanne Clery Act. That law states that college and universities who receive federal funds must report particular crime data annually and make that information available to the public. Those schools must also supply “timely warnings” when an emergency or threat is present on campus.

The bill changes the Clery Act’s current language. If passed by the Senate, schools will be required to notify the public within 30 minutes of receiving threats regarding the safety and health of students and faculty. Currently, campuses are only required to issue a “timely warning.”

In addition, the bill’s amendments to the Clery Act would ask for colleges to create policies explaining evacuation procedures and emergency response. Additionally, schools would be required to publish fire safety reports yearly, which would include the number of fires on campus, what caused them, and the number of fire-related deaths at a given campus.

The primary sponsor of the bill is Rep. George Miller, (D – Calif.), who is the chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor.

Family members of Virginia Tech victims, along with an advocacy group for campus safety, Security on Campus, sent a letter to Miller and Rep. Howard McKeon, the committee’s ranking Republican on Feb. 5. The letter said the condition to require schools to issue emergency warnings within 30 minutes would “serve as a living memorial to our children.” They implored the representatives to prevent any attempt to weaken the rule.

The bill passed 354-58. It would also add four new criminal offenses that colleges would be required to include in their annual statistics, including intimidation, larceny-theft, destruction, damage or vandalism of property, and simple assault.

The bill instructs the Department of Education to clarify guidelines on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974. It would classify when school officials can be provided information about students who pose a considerable risk to themselves or others on campus. The FERPA revision refers to Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, who was diagnosed with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. Cho was responsible for the deaths of 32 students and faculty in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

The White House released a statement on Feb. 6 opposing some segments of the bill but to none of the safety-related conditions.

The bill will move to the Senate to be debated.

To view IACLEA’s (International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators) response, please click here.

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