The Politics of Autism discusses the problem of wandering, which is the topic of legislation before Congress.
Despite an earlier roadblock in committee, the House of Representatives yesterday passed Kevin and Avonte's Law. The vote took place under "suspension of the rules," a procedure for passing non-controversial bills. A two-thirds vote is necessary to pass a bill under suspension.
The role call was 346-66.
Voting aye were 167 Republicans and 179 Democrats.
Voting nay were 65 Republicans and one Democrat (Donald Payne of New Jersey)./
Maria Jeffrey writes at Conservative Review:
The bill has incited passion from autism and Alzheimer’s advocacy groups, as well as those who are concerned about civil liberties and government overreach. Last week, the bill was scheduled for a House Judiciary Committee markup, but was postponed.
As Conservative Review reported at the time, “Multiple sources on the Hill with knowledge of the situation said that the hearing was cancelled after several GOP committee members voiced concerns about how the language dealt with privacy and civil liberty issues.”
After the Judiciary Committee markup was cancelled, the language of Kevin and Avonte’s Law was changed, so that the tracking devices overseen by the DOJ were less permanent and invasive than the ones originally proposed.
The language change “is still not good enough,” Robert Romano, senior editor at Americans for Limited Government, stated in a press release Wednesday: “There shouldn’t be any bill, because there shouldn’t be a program no matter how well-intentioned overseen by the Attorney General electronically tracking people in this manner.”
Nevertheless, the bill was brought up for a quick vote on Thursday, the last day of the House’s lame-duck legislative session before the new year.
A House source told Conservative Review that, as of last week, an informal whip count of the Judiciary Committee found that a majority of members on the committee were opposed to the bill. It is extremely uncommon for a bill to bypass a committee markup in this way and be brought to the floor under suspension of the rules, the source stated. The bill may be brought up in the Senate for a vote in the next 24 hours, where it is expected to pass with ease and head to President Obama’s desk for signature.A release from Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ):
Today, the House of Representatives approved Kevin and Avonte’s Law (H.R. 4919), bipartisan legislation that will help protect children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, and seniors with Alzheimer’s who are prone to wandering. Authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), H.R. 4919 provides targeted support to communities for locally-based, proactive programs to prevent wandering and locate missing children or seniors who have wandered from safe environments.
“This is an issue that hits home for me,” said Smith, founder and co-Chair of the Autism Caucus and the Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force. He referenced the successful use of the Project Lifesaver Program to safely bring home an 8-year-old boy with autism from Bergen County, New Jersey who wandered from his family in a public park on November 4th. “Sadly, just days later, a 4-year-old boy was pronounced dead after wandering from supervision and drowning in Salem County. Like the children for whom this legislation is named, these two New Jersey boys demonstrate how critical this legislation is to prevent such needless tragedy.”
Wandering is a safety concern for both seniors with Alzheimer’s and children with developmental disabilities. It is estimated that 60 percent of the 5.3 million individuals with Alzheimer’s, and 49 percent of the 1 in 68 children with autism have wandered. The results can be devastating: this legislation is named in honor of two boys with autism, Kevin Curtis Wills and Avonte Oquendo, who both wandered from safety and tragically drowned.
“The ‘Missing Americans Alert Program’ will fill a great unmet need, particularly in the autism community—since 2011, over 100 individuals with autism lost their lives after wandering from a safe environment,” said Smith. “Time and training are of the essence when individuals wander and Kevin and Avonte’s Law can help equip local law enforcement with the training and technology to bring these children home safely.”
Specifically, Smith’s legislation will reauthorize and expand a previously authorized program, the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, to include children with a developmental disability and rename it the “Missing Americans Alert Program.”
Grants could be made to law enforcement agencies, public safety agencies, and nonprofit organizations to provide proactive educational programing to prevent wandering to families and caretakers of individuals who wander, as well as training to first responders and school personnel in order to recognize and respond to endangered missing individuals and facilitate their rescue and recovery. Additionally, this funding could also be used for voluntary, non-invasive technologies that facilitate the rescue and recovery of wanderers.
This much needed, bipartisan legislation is supported by a number of autism, Alzheimer’s and children’s groups, including Autism Speaks, Autism New Jersey, the Autism Society, the National Autism Association, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, SafeMinds, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.