A bipartisan group led by two Tucson lawmakers wants to make government entities and institutions of higher education report instances of violent behavior by employees or students.
HB 2559, which is scheduled before committee next week, is a response to last month’s shooting that killed six and severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Jared Loughner, who was charged with the shootings, had been suspended from Pima Community College due to disruptive behavior and told to seek a mental health evaluation before returning.
Reps. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, said the bill would help ensure that knowledge of dangerous behavior reaches those people in a position to intervene.
“It gives these organizations of smaller or limited jurisdiction some guidance,” Vogt said. “It tells them who they should report this to so another jurisdiction or organization can help make sure that the information cycle is being completed.”
Existing law requires that certain state medical personnel report mentally ill persons they feel pose a danger to themselves or others for evaluation and possible detention.
The bill would expand this practice by requiring all state agencies to report to law enforcement threats or violent behavior that results in repeated suspension, expulsion or termination of employment. Officers would then act as a conduit in delivering information to a regional behavioral health center, where experts can determine whether the case merits further attention.
Heinz said the bill carefully balances the need for greater reporting and the burden duty-to-report legislation may place on government institutions by bringing law enforcement into the mix.
“That is why it is so important, I think, to have them in the loop,” he said. “It is unfair to expect that, for example, a small school district … would necessarily know what the appropriate contact point would be at the regional behavioral health agency level.”
The bill was scheduled for a hearing next Wednesday by the House Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety.
While the Arizona Board of Regents hasn’t taken an official stance on the bill, spokeswoman Katie Paquet said ambiguous language and potential privacy issues could raise legal concerns down the line.
“What constitutes knowledge, what is membership and who are the proper law enforcement?” Paquet said. “These terms need to be defined.”
Mandatory reporting could also expose educational institutions to disability discrimination and privacy lawsuits, she said, particularly under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which makes many student records confidential.
“This law would remove university discretion toward whom [schools] notify,” she said. “If somebody has some kind of disability and the person who is calling them out on it isn’t aware of that … the universities could be subject to claims for disability discrimination.”
But Heinz said he expects to amend the bill to clarify essential terms and ensure it wouldn’t remove an agency’s control over disciplinary action that would trigger reporting measures.
“Unless that’s something that precipitates an expulsion immediately, then it wouldn’t rise to the level of requiring the university to report,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association have also participated in talks to ensure there are no issues, Heinz added.
The legislation is part of a group of bills reacting to the Tucson shooting, including a recently announced measure to ban large-capacity gun clips. That bill was introduced by Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who has also signed on to support the reporting measure.
“We’re not trying to practice medicine,” Heinz said. “We’re just trying to make sure that information gets from Point A to Point B and C, so that these individuals … get the help they need in a timely fashion.”