Bill requiring panic alarms in schools moves forward with major changes

There's now work to be done to square the House and Senate bills.

Legislation requiring panic alarms in public and charter schools throughout the state underwent major changes Thursday after a strike-all amendment in the House.

Members voted to remove a requirement that a single, uniform system be installed in all schools.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 70) still requires that uniform mobile alert system, which would be set up following a bidding process for a statewide contract.

But that mandate drew some skepticism as the bill moved through the committee process. Several lawmakers raised questions as to whether that one-size-fits-all system was the best model going forward.

Thursday, Rep. Chris Latvala offered a strike-all amendment that would allow flexibility between school districts.

“My amendment attempts to make a great bill even better,” Latvala argued.

The newly-amended House version of the bill (HB 23) requires an ability to activate the system anywhere on campus. It also would “allow communication between the individual initiating the alert and the public safety answering point.”

The measure would allot $8 million for Fiscal Year 2020-21 to implement the system.

But gone is any language mandating districts adopt a single system established at the state level.

“The amendment removes the statewide requirement and clarifies that all 67 district must have a panic alert system, but are not limited to one solution,” Latvala said.

The Department of Education will still solicit a contract for a single system that districts may implement. But they are not required to do so and could instead choose a system that works best for them.

That leaves some work to be done to reconcile the House and Senate bills.

The Senate version is also ready for third reading after adopting an amendment Thursday. But that amendment merely states the Division of Emergency Management must also be consulted during solicitation of the mandatory contract.

Under previous versions, the DoE was only required to consult with the Department of Law enforcement and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

During the committee process, Sen. Kelli Stargel stated that school districts would be able to install alert systems in addition to the state-mandated version.

“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.”

Senators will now have to decide whether to join the House in removing that mandate altogether.

The panic alert 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.

Reps. Dan Daley and Michael Gottlieb are behind the House version, while Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring the Senate measure.

Ryan Nicol

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 [email protected].


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