Governor OKs Bills Prompted by Tech Massacre


A week before the anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech, Gov. Tim Kaine signed into law more than 30 bills passed by the 2008 General Assembly in response to the massacre.

The new laws, which take effect July 1, are intended to improve Virginias mental health system.

The Virginia Tech tragedy reminded us that we must address the mental health needs of those in our family, among our friends and in the community, Kaine said in signing the bills Wednesday.

We will make significant investments in our mental health system, and the bills before me today will establish standards for the system and increase accountability.

Many of the bills deal specifically with minors and college students:

  • House Bill 1005 (sponsored by Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville) requires universities to notify a students parents if the student receives mental health treatment at the schools student health center and is in danger of harming himself or others.
  • Senate Bill 538 (sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg) calls for a reliable first-warning system for students, staff and faculty when an emergency occurs.
  • SB 636 (sponsored by Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax) allows an institution to request complete student records, including mental health records held by any schools the student attended.

Other new laws increase gun control.

HB 709 (sponsored by Delegate Bill Janis, D-Henrico) and SB 226 (sponsored by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville) will augment the questions required on state background checks to purchase a firearm. Applicants will be asked whether they ever have been involuntarily committed to mental health treatment.

SB 216 (sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke) prohibits people who have been involuntarily committed from purchasing, possessing or transporting a firearm.

Other bills address the confidentiality of court and medical records for mental health patients. They will make it easier for government agencies to share such records.

HB 559 (sponsored by Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville) changes the criteria for involuntarily committing someone to a mental health treatment program. Currently, a person must be deemed an imminent threat to others or to their own safety to be involuntarily committed. Under the new law, a person can be involuntarily committed if there is any possibility of the person doing harm to themselves or others in the near future.

Senate Joint Resolution 42 (sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth) requests a study on mental care reform by the Joint Commission on Health Care.
The state budget for the 2008 biennium will include $28.3 million in funding for emergency services, outpatient services and mental health case management. An extra $13.4 million will fund other mental health programs across the state.

The legislation and budget allocations were a response to the deaths at Virginia Tech on April 16, when a student with a history of mental health problems shot and killed 32 people before killing himself.

In memory of the victims, Kaine has ordered that the state flag be lowered to half-staff this Wednesday, the anniversary of the massacre. The governor also has called for a statewide moment of silence at noon that day, followed by a tolling of bells.

Accompanied by first lady Anne Holton, Kaine plans to address a convocation at Tech on Wednesday.