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Senators Back School Safety Measures

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Sen. Lauren Book (News Service of Florida)

Nearly two years after the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida senators on Monday started moving forward with additional school security proposals. 

On the eve of the start of the annual legislative session, two measures that aim to improve response times in case of school shootings or attacks were unanimously approved by the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who serves on a state panel appointed to investigate the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and make recommendations, is pushing for the bills.

“We just want to ensure that our children are kept safe,” Book said.

One of the proposals (SB 70) would require panic alarms at all Florida public schools, including charter schools. The alarms, which could cost about $253.8 million to implement statewide, would be placed inside all school buildings and be accessible to administrators, teachers and staff members.

The panic-alarm systems would link school main offices to the appropriate local law enforcement agencies. Alarms would be activated manually and would automatically send signals to police. School districts would have the option to make the panic alarms silent.

Book’s bill is named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a student who was one of the 17 people killed in the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.

“Time is critical in an active assailant situation,” Book said. “When it comes to saving lives like Alyssa’s and her friends, seconds matter.”

If the bill is approved, schools would need to use panic buttons sold and installed by private vendors. The bill would allow schools to pay for the panic alarms with state funds in the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, which is always one of the most closely watched pots of money during budget negotiations.

An identical panic alarm proposal (HB 23) has been filed in the House.

House PreK-12 Appropriations Chairman Chris Latvala told The News Service of Florida he would like to see a bill passed that would mandate every school to have panic button phone apps.

“There are some school districts in Florida that have something similar and there’s some that don’t. I would prefer that statewide everyone has the same system,” Latvala said.

In addition to the panic alarm system, Book also wants to create a statewide rule that would provide law enforcement agencies with a uniform procedure for how to respond to active assailant situations.

Book’s bill (SB 788) would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop the rule. The department would need to communicate with law enforcement agencies across the state and consider the “unique needs of different geographic regions” for responding to active shooting incidents.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which is the state panel created after the shooting, noted in its latest report that there were “deficiencies in the active assailant response policies and procedures for both the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and Broward County Public Schools.”

“The deficiencies had a negative effect on the school’s and law enforcement’s response to the shooting and some of these deficiencies resulted in unnecessary casualties,” said the report, which was released in November.

Developing the minimum standards sought in Book’s bill would cost an estimated $15,000, according to the bill’s staff analysis.

All law enforcement agencies would need to adopt the statewide rule by Jan. 1.