MONTGOMERY — State Rep. Phillip Ensler's (D-Montgomery) bill to add criminal penalties for swatting passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Swatting is a growing crime nationwide. It involves making a prank call to emergency services to bring a large number of armed police officers or a SWAT team to a particular address. Swatting is dangerous to first responders and the victims. In some cases, it has led to the deaths of innocent victims.

Ensler, the only Jewish member of the House of Representatives, was motivated to file the bill after 200 synagogues nationwide, including his own, were swatted with bomb threats.

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville's (R-Auburn) Auburn home was also swatted last December.

Swatting can be politically, ideologically or racially motivated. However, many instances have shown no motive whatsoever, making it difficult for responders to separate real threats from fake ones.

House Bill 78 (HB78) bill would codify the crime of swatting, which is defined as if a person "knowingly reports, or causes to be reported, false or misleading information regarding a crime or emergency to a law enforcement agency or emergency service provider under circumstances where the false or misleading information is likely to cause a response from a law enforcement agency or an emergency service provider."

"This is increasingly an issue where bomb threats or issues dealing with mass shootings are called in, but it's not actually happening," Ensler said. "But law enforcement shows up en mass, often a swat team [or] a bomb squad. So this just creates the offense of swatting."

The penalties in the bill depend on the fake crime that is reported. If a person calls in a false report on a misdemeanor crime or emergency, that person would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. The punishment would be equivalent to the Class A, B or C felony reported, depending on the false report, only if the emergency response causes physical injury to any person.

The bill faced no real opposition in the House, but several Democratic lawmakers used debate time to speak at length without much general substance, gratuitously referring to other legislation entirely unrelated to HB78.

Ultimately, the bill passed with a vote of 99-2-1. The only two "no" votes came from State Reps. Ron Bolton (R-Northport) and Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

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