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Bill requiring panic alarm system in schools now ready for Senate floor

The bill advanced from its final committee stop Thursday.

A bill from Sen. Lauren Book requiring public and charter schools to set up mobile panic alarm systems is now ready for the Senate floor.

The bill (SB 70) advanced from its final committee stop Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill states that “each public school, including charter schools, shall implement an interoperable mobile panic alert system capable of connecting diverse emergency services technologies to ensure real-time coordination between multiple first responders.”

The measure stems from a recommendation by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

The system would be called “Alyssa’s Alert.” It’s named after Alyssa Alhadeff, one of 17 people murdered during the 2018 attack at Broward County’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Alyssa’s mother, Lori, spoke in favor of the bill Thursday.

“Alyssa was a spunky, outgoing trendsetter,” her mother said. “I do believe that by passing Alyssa’s Law — requiring a statewide mobile, interoperable panic alert system in schools — we’ll set the safety standard and trend for the country.”

The mobile alert system would be established following a bidding process for a statewide contract. The Department of Education — in consultation with the MSD Commission and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — would solicit that contract.

The mobile system requirement was added in a strike-all amendment at the bill’s previous committee stop. That uniform system earned some criticism Thursday, both from lawmakers and other vendors who testified against use of a single system.

“In three buttons, you can talk to a live operator for free,” Sen. Jeff Brandes said referring to calling 911. “It costs, not $8 million, but it costs you $0. And you can have a live operator who is immediately talking to law enforcement.”

Brandes did support the bill at Thursday’s committee stop but signaled questions as the bill goes to the full Senate.

“Us getting involved in a vendor-driven food fight to go from three buttons to one button for $8 million seems to put us in a very unenviable situation,” Brandes said.

“I guess the question is, if we’re going to spend $8 million on something, would it be better to make [the 911 system] more robust? To spend $8 million on mental health counseling? Because I believe, most likely, that at the end of the day a vast majority of the people — even with an $8 million app on their phone — are still going to use the free three buttons to get help.”

Under the bill, schools may also set up additional strategies or systems on their own in addition to the mobile system. That was a point raised by Sen. Kelli Stargel as she spoke in favor of the bill.

“Nothing in this bill limits any one of these organizations that have a product that they think would be a benefit — and can be in use in addition to [the mobile system] — to have the ability to go and talk with school districts.”

Book also defended the legislation, saying it will cut down response time in an emergency

“Time is critical. In an active shooter situation, when it comes to saving lives — like Alyssa’s and her friends and teachers — nanoseconds count.”

The House version of the bill (HB 23), sponsored by Reps. Dan Daley and Michael Gottlieb, has also advanced through its three scheduled committee stops.

“The introduction of ‘Alyssa’s Law’ to the state of Florida is just one way we can honor the young life of Alyssa Alhadeff,” Gottlieb added in a statement Thursday.

“By providing Florida’s public schools with the option for panic alarms, first responders will now receive immediate guidance and direction; enabling them to respond more quickly, eliminate a threat, and treat those who have been harmed. This is a necessary response to an evil in today’s society, we must continue this congruent effort until we find a solution to our mass shooting epidemic.”

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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