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House panel passes legislation mandating panic alarms in schools

It’s estimated to cost about $8 million to install alarms in more than 3,000 schools.

The House Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee passed legislation Tuesday requiring all public schools to have panic alarms without opposition. 

The committee substitute (HB 23) was originally sponsored by Democratic Rep. Michael Gottlieb. It was prompted by the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. An amendment adopted during the hearing specifies it would appropriate 8 million dollars in general revenue for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to implement. 

The bill would create “Alyssa’s Law,” which requires each public elementary, middle, and high school campus, including charter schools, to have a mobile panic alarm system for life-threatening emergency situations, such as active shooter situations, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. School employees must be able to activate the alarm from any building or location on campus.  

The law would be named after Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the 17 people killed during a shooting at  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Activating the panic alarm sends a message to 911 so emergency personnel and law enforcement can quickly respond. 

Gottlieb said he received a message from his 16-year-old son that morning that the school was experiencing a code yellow. According to Broward County Public Schools’ emergency codes, yellow means a lockdown where only the school’s Safe Team may move around campus.

“That’s the situation that we face,” he said. “In Broward County, in public schools and in charter schools today. And those kids have no way other than getting that message to us and those teachers have no way of disseminating information about a real emergency right now to our law enforcement personnel.”

Jeffrey Kelley with Mutualink said he believes the alarms can be installed in about 3,600 schools for about $8-$10 million. He calls the 236 million cited in an article by by the Sun Sentinel. The newspaper was citing a 2019 analysis by the Florida Department of Education.

This is the House bill’s second stop. It heads next to the Education Committee.

Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring a companion bill (SB 70). It has passed one subcommittee without opposition. 

Book was named to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission following the 2018 attack. That body is tasked with investigating the shooting as well as ways to improve school safety throughout the state.  

New Jersey passed a version of “Alyssa’s Law” in 2019.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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