Connecting state and local government leaders

Virginia’s New 9-1-1 Law Has Origins in High School Classroom

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam approved legislation that emerged as a lawmaking exercise by students.

During the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, students who were hiding in classrooms and elsewhere on campus didn’t end up calling 9-1-1 because they were afraid to speak on the phone fearing they might draw attention from the assailant. They ended up texting their parents or friends asking them to call 9-1-1, which delayed response by law enforcement.

That ended up being one of the most powerful arguments for S.B. 418, legislation that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed last week that mandates all local 9-1-1 call center operations in the state to accept text messages. The new law takes effect on July 1.

The legislation was the brainchild of a handful of students at Centreville High School in Fairfax County, who testified before the Virginia Senate Commerce and Labor Committee in January.

According to the Fairfax County Public Schools:

Each year, senior government students at Centreville High experience the lawmaking process as participants, writing bills related to problems or issues in Virginia. Among the ideas for bills this year were to outlaw the sale and use of neonicotinoids to reduce honeybee devastation; prohibit citizens with records of child abuse or endangerment to work as a substitute teacher; exempt menstrual products from sales tax; prohibit smoking in state and local parks; forbid large trucks to use the fast lane on highways; decrease the speed limit in school zones to 15 mph; and change domestic violence from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony.

While many of Virginia’s more populous counties and cities currently accept text messages for 9-1-1, there are many smaller jurisdictions that don’t, according to WTOP-FM.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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