New Florida law allows faith-based first responders to use lights and sirens

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB 529 and HB 804 at South Florida synagogue

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on June 14, 2021, at The Shul of Bal Harbour in Surfside.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on June 14, 2021, at The Shul of Bal Harbour in Surfside. (WPLG)

SUNRISE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills into law Monday near Miami Beach that he says will directly benefit Jewish communities in Florida.

During a news conference at The Shul of Bal Harbour Synagogue in Surfside, north of Miami Beach DeSantis signed HB 529 and HB 804 into law.

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House Bill 804, known as the Volunteer Ambulance Services Bill, ensures volunteer first-responders can operate with their lights and sirens on when responding to calls.

Previously, Florida law did not recognize an ambulance providing volunteer services as an authorized emergency vehicle and those vehicles could not use lights and sirens.

Hatzalah of South Florida is among the volunteer EMS organizations that benefit from the bill. The nonprofit’s CEO Baruch Sandhaus said the organization has a fleet of vehicles and since beginning operations 13 years ago has responded to more than 13,000 calls in the South Florida region. Some Orthodox Jews rely on these volunteer ambulance services to help overcome religious sensitivities that prevent some people from using traditional emergency services.

Previously, while acting in the capacity as a first response agency, “we have been limited in what we were able to do to provide patient care,” Sandhaus said.

DeSantis also signed, HB 804, the Moment of Silence in Public Schools bill, which requires public schools in Florida to set aside two minutes of silence for children to meditate or pray at the beginning of the first class of the day. Students can use the moment how they wish regardless of their religion.

“So we have an opportunity here to really protect the religious freedom of everybody who’s going to school, K through 12 in the state of Florida, (I’m) really proud of that,” DeSantis said.

The governor has been touring the state as he signs bills passed by state lawmakers during this past legislative session into law. Last week, he signed a bill designed to address increasing home insurance costs.

DeSantis was set to make the announcement around 12 p.m. but his plane was diverted due to inclement weather. He arrived around 2 p.m.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.