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After Parkland tragedy, Florida Senate OK’s panic buttons

The House and Senate must now resolve differences in their respective versions.

The Senate unanimously approved a measure Friday that would mandate a single, uniform panic alarm system be installed in public and charter schools throughout the state.

In a 40-0 vote, the Senate approved its version of the bill (SB 70) just one day after the House passed its own version (HB 23) but did not take up another reading on Friday.

“Radios were like bricks; they weren’t working,” said Lori Alhadeff, who championed the legislation on behalf of her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who was among those killed.

“We didn’t have panic buttons. If we had an Alyssa’s Alert, teachers would have seen it on their phones and would have known how to respond properly. They could have locked and barricaded their rooms, and got out of the line of fire,” Alhadeff said.

Without direct communication with authorities, teachers and staff were unsure if the commotion was part of a drill. Once aware of the danger, they were faced with life-and-death decisions — escape into hallways or find safe cover.

The two measures still differ in significant ways.

The Senate bill requires school districts to utilize a specific mobile, interoperable panic alert system that will be established via negotiations by the state.

The measure from Sen. Lauren Book tasks the Department of Education (DoE) to operate a bidding process for a statewide contract. In soliciting those bids, the DoE will consult with the Division of Emergency Management, the Department of Law Enforcement and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

School districts may install additional safety systems of their own.

“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,” Sen. Kelli Stargel said during the bill’s final committee stop.

But at a minimum, they would be required to adopt that state-negotiated system.

That mandate has drawn 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, the House removed that mandate from its version of the bill. Reps. Dan Daley and Michael Gottlieb are sponsoring the legislation.

The DoE will still solicit a contract for a single system that districts may implement. But district officials are not required to do so and could instead select a different system that may work better for their region.

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

Alhadeff, now a Broward County School Board member, spent Friday back at the Capitol to push for passage.

“I need to be here to see that Alyssa’s Law crosses the finish line,” she said.

Similar bills have been filed in New York and Nebraska. Two proposals have also been introduce in Congress.

Last year, New Jersey became the first state to put a panic system in place.

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Content from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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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