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Tennessee House advances bill addressing fire alarms in response to Nashville school shooting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Legislation requiring that schools determine the cause of a fire alarm being triggered before instructing children leave a classroom was advanced unanimously by the Tennessee House on Thursday.

The proposal is in response to a Nashville elementary school shooting where a shooter killed six people including three children last year.

Smoke from the shooter's weapon triggered the school's fire alarm, but some students and teachers were unaware what was going on when they heard it. This confusion ultimately led to the death of third grader William Kinney, who had been designated as line leader for his class that day and was the first to collide with the shooter in a hallway while helping students out of the classroom.

To date, the Republican-dominant Legislature has rebuffed calls to enforce stricter gun control measures in response to the shooting. Instead, they've chosen to focus on improving school safety resources, which have included reevaluating protocols surrounding fire alarms.

A previous attempt cleared the House last year during a brief special session that Republican Gov. Bill Lee called in the wake of the tragedy at The Covenant School, but the Senate refused to consider the bill.

According to the legislation, all public and private schools would be required to develop a policy that would direct school employees how to respond to a fire alarm being activated due to an active shooter. Those plans would need to be ready to be implemented by July 1.

Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson called the legislation “ineffective” at addressing the reasons behind school shootings. The Memphis lawmaker added that while he supported the proposal, he criticized his Republican colleagues for refusing to look at gun control measures.

“It was the smoke from an AR-15 that led to the fire alarm going off at this school,” Pearson said. “So I want to make sure that we stay focused on that.”

House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he was committed to exploring other ideas to improve school safety.

“As a body, let us pass this legislation, but let us commit to passing more legislation that prevents gun violence in our state,” the Republican said.

As House members debated the bill, families whose children survived the shooting at The Covenant School stood in the front row of the public gallery. They broke out in applause after the bill passed.

The proposal must now clear the Senate, where Republican leaders say they expect the bill to succeed.

The three children who were killed in the shooting were Kinney, Evelyn Dieckhaus and Hallie Scruggs, all 9 years old. The three adults were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school; custodian Mike Hill, 61; and substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61.