Assembly approves bill creating penalties for bias-based false public alarms

TRENTON, N.J. – Jewish centers and synagogues have experienced bomb threats as the number of bias incidents in the state significantly increased. On Monday, the Assembly unanimously passed a bill (A724), co-sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney, allowing the crime of creating a false public alarm to be charged as bias intimidation.

Criminals who make hate-filled threats against a religious community will be punished properly under this bill. We will protect people’s right to practice their religion and we will not tolerate bomb threats.

Under the bill, a person can be charged with bias intimidation if they create a false public alarm, or commit another crime like terroristic threats, assault, murder, or arson, against a person in a protected class. Initiating or circulating a false report or warning of an impending fire, explosion, crime, catastrophe, emergency or any other incident is a third degree crime which carries a penalty of three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. Depending upon the circumstances, the crime of creating a false public alarm can range from a fourth degree to a first degree crime, which carries a 15 to 30-year prison sentence.

Creating a false public alarm that aims to frighten and hurt the freedoms we hold dear is a serious crime and violators will be sentenced accordingly.

According to recent news reports, Jewish community centers in New Jersey were among the 50 locations across 23 states to receive bomb threats through an email. In 2017, New Jersey was among the states to be targeted in a nationwide series of bomb threats aimed at Jewish Community Centers, temples and schools.

According to preliminary data from the attorney general’s office, bias incidents from 2018 to 2019 increased by 65 percent.

The bill awaits action in the Senate.