New York Needs Assault-Free School Zones
Legislative column from Assemblyman James Tedisco (R,C,I-Saratoga-Schenectady)
April 30, 2010
Recently, I met with students from Saratoga Springs High School to discuss the importance of voting and I was reminded that it wasn’t long ago when a student at the very same school was able to successfully fight off an attacker in the school parking lot. How easy it is for us to forget that in one of the safest counties in New York, incidents like this can happen to young people. Unfortunately, attacks like this can and do occur in every region of our state, which is why we must do our best to raise awareness of the issue and prevent future attacks. On that note, families across the state recently joined together at the NYS Museum to remember and reaffirm their hope in finding loved ones and commemorate New York’s Missing Persons Day, which was April 6th. On that day, they were led and inspired by Doug and Mary Lyall of Ballston Spa whose daughter, Suzanne, went missing from the SUNY Albany campus on an evening in March 1998. I am continually inspired by the Lyalls’ strength and courage as they have turned their personal tragedy into so much positive progress for others coping with the uncertainty that comes with having a family member go missing. The Lyalls have counseled others, developed innovative programs and, through their Center for Hope, have been outspoken advocates on this issue. With the assistance and blessing of the Lyalls, I authored “Suzanne’s Law” (A.6650), which established the assault-free and abduction-free school zone act. The legislation recognizes the important status of schools and education centers as safe havens for children and young New Yorkers. “Suzanne’s Law” strengthens sentencing and penalties for abductions and assault crimes committed on school grounds. The legislation, which has passed the state Senate, includes nurseries and college campuses as part of its definition of “school grounds.” By enhancing sentences, this bill sends would-be criminals a clear message that our schools are safe havens, where preying upon students will not be tolerated. If adopted, my bill, with its enhanced penalties, will act as a deterrent to would-be attackers and will provide additional safeguards to our students. Again, looking at the Saratoga High School case, the attacker, a man from Connecticut, was already charged with two sexual assaults in his home state and was out on bail at the time of the attack. Through the help of school personnel and the outstanding work of District Attorney Jim Murphy and his staff, the perpetrator pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 12 years in state prison. Had “Suzanne’s Law” been in place, he would have been subject to the harsher penalties and received more prison time. The Legislature has already passed “Megan’s Law,” which set up New York’s sex offender registry, and the AMBER Alert system legislation, which partners broadcasting systems and law enforcement to alert the public of missing persons. “Suzanne’s Law” is the next logical step in keeping young New Yorkers safe from violent criminals. We have drug-free and speed-free school zones, it is time for New York to institute assault-free school zones so that our young people can feel safe while they are at school and focus on learning without being overburdened with worry for their safety. New Yorkers should not have to wait any longer for the passage of this critical safety measure. If you support “Suzanne’s Law,” please contact me at (518) 370-2812, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Center for Hope, please visit their Web site or call (518) 884-8761.