N.J. lawmakers pass bills that address active shooter events, celebrate Black history

The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The New Jersey State House is seen in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, June 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New Jersey state lawmakers acted on several pieces of legislation on Thursday, including a measure that proponents said would address teenage mental health and safety in the wake of recent mass shootings.

Also in the week leading up to Juneteenth, lawmakers unanimously passed a measure that would create a Black Heritage Trail through the state’s Division of Travel Tourism.

The General Assembly passed a bill that would allow certain mental health professionals working in school districts to refer or help facilitate referral of students to private professional counselors.

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An Assembly vote was scheduled on a measure that would require school districts to develop behavioral threat assessment teams at each school in every district, but Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic) added an amendment during Thursday’s session. Details about the amendment weren’t readily available on the legislature’s website. The public will have time to comment on the amendment before a full Assembly vote is rescheduled.

It comes days after the Assembly Education Committee unanimously cleared both measures.

The Senate did not vote on the mental health bill, but it did pass a measure that, if enacted, would require certain public venues, including sports arenas, movie theaters, and places of worship to submit emergency plans to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of preparing for mass casualty and active shooter events.

As the nation grapples with a spike in mass shootings, including a shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May, where a teenage gunman killed 19 students and two teachers, lawmakers in New Jersey decided to take action to address the issue.

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In 2022, there have already been 27 school shootings in the U.S., according to Education Week. The same report said there have been 119 school shootings since 2018.

According to the New Jersey Education Association, the state ranks low nationally for known school shootings. The New Jersey Department of Education reported that weapons incidents made up 3% of more than 28,000 reported incidents at schools during the 2018-2019 school year (the last year data is publicly available).

Incidents involving knives made up most of the reported cases, though there were six incidents involving handguns and 22 involving air guns, BB guns, and pellet guns. There were 200 incidents in which the weapon type was not disclosed.

Thursday afternoon, the Senate passed the Black Heritage Trail bill, which the Assembly approved in March.

It would create a commission tasked with designating historical markers throughout New Jersey that commemorate African American contributions to the arts, education, science, journalism, and more.

The bill appropriates $1 million to the project.

“It means a lot for the whole entire state, especially for African Americans,” said Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-1), the bill’s primary sponsor. “We can start celebrating our history all across this state, and not just for February and not just in June.”

Lawmakers are already considering locations to include on the trail: the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cape May County; Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson (which played host to Negro League baseball games in the early 1900s); and the Underground Railroad Museum in Burlington County.

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