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Pennsylvania school panic alarm bills proposed in legislature

Lori Alhadeff is pictured with a picture of her daughter, Alyssa. Alhadeff and her husband, Ilan, are the founders of the Make Our Schools Safe Foundation in honor of their daughter, who was one of the students killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018.

Five members of the state Legislature want Pennsylvania to become the latest state to adopt Alyssa’s Law, which would require the state’s schools to install silent panic alarms.

Alyssa’s Law is supported by the Make Our Schools Safe Foundation started by Ilan and Lori Alhadeff after their daughter Alyssa, 14, was killed in the Parkland, Fla. school shooting in 2018. The law has been enacted in several states already, including Florida, New York and New Jersey.

“We want to do everything that we can to create a safer school environment,” Lori Alhadeff told The Associated Press in 2022. “We want to make sure that (children) are protected and that they come home alive.”

Two co-sponsorship memorandums supporting Alyssa’s Law have been introduced in the state Senate in recent days, one in the Senate and one in the House. Sens. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, and Tracy Pennycuick, R-Red Hill, are asking their fellow state Senators to consider sponsoring legislation they are drafting to implement Alyssa’s Law . House Reps. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, D-Wyomissing, Justin Fleming, D-Harrisburg, and Kyle Donahue, D-Scranton, are carrying the measure in the state House.

“Alyssa’s Law is critical legislation addressing the issue of law enforcement response time when a life-threatening emergency occurs because time equals life. The bill requires that all public schools be equipped with silent panic alarms that directly notify law enforcement in the event of a school-based emergency. This law is of utmost importance because it enables school authorities to take proactive measures that can potentially save lives during emergencies,’ they said in their memorandum.

While five states mandate panic alarms, each piece of legislation is different. Compliance for Florida schools became a requirement beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and includes $6.4 million in recurring funding to help schools pay for the panic alarms. Florida has a list of pre-approved vendors who can receive funding, though different vendors are allowed as long as they meet the law’s requirements.

New Jersey has state-backed grants available for Alyssa’s Law compliance under the state’s Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act. There are several ways to attain compliance.

There are several grants in New York that can be used for Alyssa’s Law compliance, but no dedicated funding in the state budget. The New York law also only stipulates that school districts consider using panic alarms as part of their district-wide safety plans. Tennessee has a similarly-worded provision. Tennessee’s schools can apply for a share of $40 million included in the 2023-24 state budget for school security upgrades. The Pennsylvania proposals follow more closely with New York and Tennessee requirements that districts consider panic alarms as part of their safety plans.

Texas adopted Alyssa’s Law shortly after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in 2023. Its bill is more aggressive than New York and Tennessee and requires each school district and charter school to provide every classroom with a silent panic alert while also requiring the technology chosen to provide immediate contact with district or school emergency services and emergency services agencies, law enforcement agencies, health departments, and fire departments. Texas has also made $105.5 million available for school safety, with $17.1 million of that allocation set aside for silent panic alert systems. There are also additional grants available that can be used on panic alert systems.

Discussions of Alyssa’s Law in Pennsylvania are in their early stages, though neither co-sponsorship memorandum includes mention of funding to help pay for silent panic alarms if Alyssa’s Law is passed.

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