N.J. could require large places of worship, movie theaters to submit emergency plans for active shooters

N.J. could require large places of worship, movie theaters to submit emergency plans for active shooters

State lawmakers want to require large houses of worship, movie theaters, and sports venues in New Jersey to set up emergency plans with local law enforcement and other first responders in the event of a mass shooting.

Legislation that would require plans to get people to safety and show a layout the facilities had bipartisan support, and no dissenting votes, in the state Senate on Thursday. The bill (S721) passed 35-0.

“Unfortunately it’s important because of the time that we live in,” said state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, one of the bill’s prime sponsors. “I grew up in an era when the Catholic Church was always open. That time has passed.”

The required plans would apply to places of worship capable of seating more than 500 people, movie theaters with more than 1,000 seats, sports and entertainment facilities with seating of more than 5,000 people, according to the bill.

But it’s probably something all houses of worship and private businesses should do, said state Sen. Joseph Cryan, the other prime sponsor.

“When law enforcement needs to respond they have … they need to respond with the best laid out approach,” Cryan, D-Union, said.

Cryan, a former sheriff, said he proactively approached religious leaders to educate them on how they should react in the case of an active shooter given that church, mosque, or synagogue’s layout. It’s also good for law enforcement to know what those buildings look like on the inside, he said.

According to the bill, the emergency plan must include a copy of the building plans or building layout that shows all access doors and routes.

It still needs to be passed in the Assembly before Gov. Phil Murphy could decide whether to sign it into law.

The legislation comes on the heels of repeated mass shootings across the nation, including when an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School on May 24 in the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade in Uvalde, Texas; and when a white man killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York, at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Murphy, a Democrat, called for tighter gun reforms in New Jersey after the shootings.

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature has been somewhat reluctant to act on those measures, which include the ability to sue firearm manufacturers, raise the age to purchase a firearm to 21, and require that ammunition and firearms be stored in separate and secure places.

But lawmakers appear poised to meet the governor halfway on some of his suggested reforms, sources recently told NJ Advance Media.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee plans to discuss some of the gun bills on Wednesday. But it’s still unclear which measures the Senate would support.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said Thursday lawmakers are still “evaluating” the proposals.

“We’re looking at them bill by bill, making sure we bring common-sense gun solutions to the people of New Jersey to ensure the bills that we pass could have an impact on gun violence,” Scutari said. “That’s what we want to see. Not just bills to pass bills. But bills that are focused on a specific issue that could actually solve issues in our society.”

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Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewArco.