Friends, I have good news, and bad news.

The good news is: Alyssa’s Law was released from the Senate Education Committee on May 14th, and is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, June 4th in the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee.  This is (hopefully) the final step before it is voted on by the full Senate.

The bad news: the Senate Education Committee added amendments to the bill that are problematic.  I am hoping that the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee re-evaluates the changes that were made last month, and makes some necessary adjustments.

As you may recall, when A-764 was heard in the Assembly Education Committee on March 12th, there was a lobbyist there who was pushing for amendments that would require the red lights and panic alarm systems mandated under Alyssa’s Law to be installed solely by alarm companies licensed in the State of New Jersey.   His request was denied by the Assembly sponsor and the Committee, and it went on to pass the full Assembly on April 12th.

Unfortunately, by the time the bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee on May 14th, the lobbyist succeeded in his quest, and the following changes were made (as per the statement released after the hearing):

“The committee amended the bill to provide that the panic alarm and emergency light systemsrequired under the bill must adhere to nationally recognized industry standards, including the standards of the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories. In addition, the amendments require that the panic alarm and emergency light systems be installed solely by a person licensed to engage in the alarm business in accordance with the provisions of section 7 of P.L.1997, c.305 (C.45:5A-27).”

As amended, the bill is now too restrictive when it comes to panic alarms: this new provision effectively precludes school administrators from even considering the current crop of app-based panic alarms–the kind of advanced technology that is being used in Sandy Hook Elementary School, all schools in Nassau & Suffolk Counties in New York, and other U.S. states.

The primary focus of this legislation should be on saving lives, not appeasing a special interest group.

I understand why the alarm installation companies pushed for this provision, and they will still benefit from the mandate in the bill that requires red emergency lights to be installed in each school.  However, lumping in panic alarm installations into this provision is both short-sighted and fiscally irresponsible.  The children of New Jersey deserve to have the most up-to-date safety technology available, regardless of the source. The well-being of our students, teachers, staff, and school administrators must take priority.

In the interests of safety, we should allow our school districts the ability to seek out the type of alarm system that best suits their needs.  The bill should be further amended to allow schools the option to utilize panic alarm systems from a variety of sources, not just the ones that are currently available from New Jersey installers.  Implementing app-based panic alarms does not require installation, so they also tend to be more cost effective than traditional alarm systems.

For these reasons, I am urging the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee to amend A-764 when it is heard on June 4th, to remove the overly-restricted provision that was previously added on panic alarm installations, and allow schools the flexibility they need to choose the system that is right for them, and best for the students.

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