A-764 “Alyssa’s Law”

After the shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, many people across the country were inspired by the students who somehow managed to rise above their trauma and grief, lifting their voices to demand change.  This tragedy especially hit home for those of us who live in Woodcliff Lake, where one of the victims lived up until a few years ago.

Alyssa Alhadeff is remembered as a smart, beautiful, young woman who loved playing soccer and brightened the lives of all who knew her. She attended the local public school with my youngest daughter, and hearing of her murder at the hands of a school shooter drove home the point that this type of devastating tragedy could happen to anyone, at any time.  She was only 14 years old.

The survivors of the shooting in Parkland put forth a clear message: enough is enough. Something needs to be done about reducing gun violence, while also making our schools safer.  I began researching bills relating to school safety, and came across A764, sponsored by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a longtime educator turned legislator.  The Senate version, S365, is sponsored by Senator Ronald Rice.

A764 requires that all school buildings in New Jersey be equipped with an emergency light and panic alarm linked to local law enforcement, which can be activated in the event of a life-threatening emergency (such as a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or an active shooter).  You can read the bill HERE.  This bill is a common sense measure that provides teachers and administrators with the ability to get an immediate and appropriate police response.  It also was determined to have no impact on state revenues: the installation of the panic alarms and emergency lights would be fully funded from the proceeds of bonds issued under the “Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act,” which would be issued even in the absence of this legislation.

What surprised me about A764 is that it has been around for so long, it has garnered bi-partisan support each time it came up for a vote, and yet, it still hasn’t become law in New Jersey.  Since its first introduction in January 2013, the bill has passed both Houses of the NJ Legislature three times–and was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie each time.

A764 has once again been filed for the new legislative session, and Assemblyman Caputo has vowed to keep fighting to get this bill passed and signed into law. According to Everytown USA, in the 5 years since this bill was first introduced, there have been 294 school shootings in America.  Installing enhanced security notification systems at our schools is long overdue.

After learning about A764, and hearing that Alyssa’s family has been advocating for safer schools, I reached out to Alyssa’s mother Lori to tell her about the bill, and suggest that it be named “Alyssa’s Law” in honor of her daughter. My hope is that by putting a name to this bill, it will personalize it enough to resonate with our legislature once again, as well as with new Governor Phil Murphy, inspiring him to finally get this measure signed into law.  Once I had confirmed the family’s interest in moving forward, I spoke with Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a co-sponsor on the bill, and Assemblyman Caputo, the prime sponsor, to see if they would be amenable naming the bill after Alyssa. Both responded immediately in the affirmative.

Last week, Alyssa’s parents sent a letter to Assemblyman Caputo and Assemblyman Holley, requesting to designate A764 “Alyssa’s Law.”   An amendment to the bill is now being filed to make that designation, and it is expected to be heard in the Assemblyman Education Committee on Monday, March 12th.

Once the bill and its amendment are officially posted for a hearing, I will share additional information on how NJ residents can help to advocate for the bill’s passage.  The first step will be reaching out to the members of the Assembly Education Committee, asking them to release the bill on Monday.  I’d also like to see additional legislators sign on as sponsors of the bill, and will be posting instructions on how to go about contacting your state representatives to request their support.