Florida Senate supports school panic alarms

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the measure dubbed “Alyssa’s Law” after a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, the Florida Senate on Friday passed a bill that would require panic alarms in public schools throughout the state.

The Senate voted 40-0 to approve the bill (SB 70), sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.

The House also is poised to pass a panic-alarm bill (HB 23), though the Senate and House would have to work out differences in the details.

The House and Senate bills are similar, but they differ in how vendors would compete for a state contract to implement a panic-alarm system for all schools to use.

Under the House bill (HB 23), vendors vying for an $8 million state contract would need to be “certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act." The federal law is meant to encourage companies to develop anti-terrorism programs that “could save lives.”

The Senate bill (SB 70) would not provide a dollar amount for the state contract, and the Florida Department of Education would be required to consult with the state-created Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state Division of Emergency Management on the contract agreements.

Both versions are named “Alyssa’s Law,” after Alyssa Alhadeff, a student who was among 17 people killed in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Her mother, Lori Alhadeff, has helped lobby for the bill and said teachers would “be empowered to press a button and know that help will be on the way” if emergencies happen at schools.

“If the threat is in the cafeteria, and someone is on the football field, the teacher will know to take their class away from the school. So, Alyssa’s Law will save lives,” said Alhadeff, a member of the Broward County School Board.

Thirteen of Florida’s 67 school districts have already put in place panic-alarm systems, Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is helping shepherd the House bill, said Thursday.

If the House bill passes and a school’s current panic-alarm system does not meet state requirements, the school would need to change its system, Latvala added.