In Brief

N.J. bill would make false public alarms a form of bias intimidation

By: - November 30, 2021 6:55 am

The bill faces an unclear path in the Legislature. (Photo by Chris Boswell/Getty Images)

A bill that would upgrade penalties for creating a false public alarm is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

The measure (A724) would also add creating a false public alarm to the list of bias intimidation crimes, making it a third-degree crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a maximum fine of $15,000.

Under current law, creating a false public alarm can range from a crime in the fourth degree to the first degree. If it’s found to be part of bias intimidation — targeting race, religion, gender, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity — the bill would automatically increase the penalties.

Introduced in February 2020, the legislation was prompted by a series of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers. According to a 2017 report, more than 100 calls were made over the span of two months threatening Jewish centers nationwide, including to a preschool in Marlboro Township and Jewish community centers in West Orange, Edison, Scotch Plains, and Tenafly.

It passed the full Assembly unanimously in February 2020. Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, both Bergen County Democrats, are primary sponsors of the bill.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.