States consider bills to guard students who report threats from libel lawsuits

Two Western states are moving to encourage students to report\nthreats of school violence by shielding them from defamation laws.

Nevada lawmakers adopted a plan in June to give immunity from\nlibel laws to those who report a threat to a school official or\npotential victim in "good faith." Legislators in California\nare considering a similar plan.

The legislation, signed by Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn on June\n8, applies to any person with information about a threat against\na student or school employee. However, it is not clear whether\nstudent or professional media outlets would be protected from\nsuits if they reported a warning of violence to their audience.

The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas,\nsaid the proposal is an effort "to create a good faith opportunity\nfor people to come forward" and report threats without having\nto fear lawsuits from the people they accuse.

Most troubling, Wiener said, is a defamation suit against the\nfamily of a California teen who told school officials that a classmate\nsaid he wanted to "kill people." Although a judge dismissed\nthe suit, the family now owes almost $40,000 in legal fees incurred\ndefending itself against the student’s claim that his reputation\nwas damaged by the report of the threat.

Proponents of the Nevada bill cite a U.S. Secret Service study\nthat found in 75 percent of recent school shootings, perpetrators\ntold other students or adults about their plans before the attack.

In California, a similar bill was proposed by Assemblywoman\nCharlene Zettel, who represents Santee-the site of a recent school\nshooting where two students were killed after a 15-year-old opened\nfire in a bathroom.

In that case, the suspect reportedly told several classmates\nand an adult that he was going to bring a gun to school, but apparently\nthe warnings were not passed on to school officials.

The California bill, AB 1717, passed the state’s lower chamber\nby a vote of 72-0 and awaits consideration in the Senate.