Michigan lawmakers consider requiring panic alarms in schools
- A Democrat-sponsored bill would require school buildings to have a panic alarm that communicates with law enforcement in an emergency
- A companion bill would provide $6.7 million in funding for the technology
- Some lawmakers express skepticism about requiring a specific safety technology in vastly different schools
Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill that would require each public school building to have a panic alarm that communicates to law enforcement in an emergency.
“The panic alarm system in each school can help save precious seconds and quite possibly, save lives in an emergency situation, including an active shooting,” said Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac, who is sponsoring the legislation.
Florida, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Texas have passed laws similar to Carter’s bill.
The legislation is referred to as “Alyssa’s Law,” named after one of the students who was killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
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But Democrats and Republicans showed some hesitation about the bill during a House Education Committee meeting Tuesday morning.
“Is this a need based on data that we have and is it producing outcomes?” said Rep. Jaime Churches, D-Wyandotte. “I’m concerned that school districts will get into a business partnership with an entity that is trying to sell a service of safety and the costs will increase over time.”
Johnathon Wertheimer, the policy director and chief of staff for Carter, told Bridge he is working with at least two groups of school security vendors on the bill but that it would be up to individual districts to decide which vendor is best.
In testimony, Wertheimer said he anticipates schools would choose to have a system where teachers can activate the panic alarm from their phone or computer, rather than just a physical button located somewhere in the school.
Lawmakers also questioned the efficacy of a panic alarm in more remote schools.
Rep. Greg Markkanen, R-Hancock, said some schools are at least 30 minutes away from law enforcement and that he would want the panic alarms to communicate with both the local sheriff’s department and the Michigan State Police.
Wertheimer told committee members the $6.7 million in funding is based on the assumption it would cost $1,000 per building installation and then doubled the estimated cost to ensure schools don’t run out of funds.
But it’s unclear what a funding structure would look like to keep up with ongoing costs such as software to use the panic buttons.
“We are currently in talks on how that would work,” he told Bridge. “The difficulty with it, of course, is that we're talking about future legislators here. So as people are termed out and whatnot, it does change the makeup but it still would be the responsibility of the legislature to stay compliant.”
The most recent state school budget signed into law includes $328 million “for activities to improve student mental health and improve student safety.” Schools are expected to use at least half on mental health but are able to use the funds to purchase security technology.
The budget also includes $3 million for a firearm detection software.
“I wonder if it might be better to give each school the funds for safety and let them decide whether it's better spent on panic buttons, technology, or another security officer,” Rep. Gina Johnsen, R-Lake Odessa said in the meeting.
Carter told Bridge she hopes to get answers to lawmakers' questions ahead of any vote on the bill.
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