November 06, 2017
Grassley, Klobuchar Introduce Bill to Aid in Locating Missing Autism, Alzheimer’s Patients
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have introduced legislation to help families locate missing loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, autism and related conditions. Kevin and Avonte’s Law (S. 2070), named in honor of two boys with autism who perished after wandering from safety, would also support training for caregivers to prevent and respond to instances of wandering.
“The feeling of dread and helplessness families must feel when a loved one with Alzheimer’s or autism goes missing is unimaginable. But when communities are empowered to lend a hand, these terrifying situations can have happy endings. Kevin and Avonte’s Law, named for a boy from Jefferson, Iowa and a boy from New York City, makes resources available for technologies that advance the search for missing children, along with specialized training for caregivers and first responders to help prevent wandering by vulnerable individuals,” Grassley said.
“Families and caregivers should have the support they need to keep their loved ones with Alzheimer’s, autism, and other developmental disabilities safe. Working to help family caregivers has been one of my priorities since joining the Senate. Our bipartisan bill will help to educate and train caregivers to prevent wandering and provide our law enforcement officers with the tools they need to help recover missing loved ones,” Klobuchar said.
The bill, which passed the Senate by voice vote in the 114th Congress, is named in honor of two young boys diagnosed with autism who wandered away from supervised settings and drowned. One of the two, nine year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, died in 2008 after jumping into the Raccoon River near his home town of Jefferson, Iowa. The other, high school student Avonte Oquendo of Queens, New York, drowned in NYC’s East River in 2014. Six year-old Hamza Elmi of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who was also diagnosed with autism, drowned in the Mississippi River near his home in 2015.
The bill would reauthorize the expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, and broaden it to support people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Specifically, the bill would allow Justice Department grants to be used for state and local education and training programs to help prevent wandering and reunite caregivers with missing family members who have a condition linked to wandering.
Under the bill, the grants can be used for the development of training and emergency protocols for school personnel, to supply first responders with additional information and resources, and for locative tracking technology programs to assist the families and caregivers of individuals who may wander from safety because of their condition. Grant funding may also be used to establish or enhance notification and communications systems for the recovery of missing children with autism.
Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are also cosponsoring this legislation. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will also cosponsor the bill.
The bill is supported by, among others, the Autism Society of Iowa, Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, SafeMinds, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, ANCOR (American Network of Community Options), National Autism Society of America, the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Color of Autism Foundation.
Grassley statement for the record on this bill’s introduction follows.
Prepared Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
On the re-introduction of Kevin and Avonte’s Law
November 2, 2017
Mr. President, today Senators Klobuchar, Tillis, Schumer, Durbin and I will introduce legislation to help America's families locate missing loved ones who have Alzheimer's disease, autism or related conditions that may cause them to wander. Congressman Chris Smith will introduce a virtually identical companion bill in the House of Representatives today as well.
Our bill, which was introduced for the first time in the 114th Congress, extends an existing program that helps locate individuals with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. It also adds new support for people with autism.
We have named the legislation in honor of two boys with autism who perished because their condition caused them to wander. One of these children, nine-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, slipped into Iowa's Raccoon River near a park and tragically drowned in 2008. The other, 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, wandered away from his school and drowned in New York City's East River a few years ago.
Theirs are not isolated cases. Just a few months ago, a four year-old with autism drowned in a pool after wandering away from her caretakers. We’ve all read or heard the heartbreaking stories of families frantically trying to locate a missing loved one whose condition caused him or her to wander off.
Our bill will give communities the tools they need to help locate people with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia as well as children with autism spectrum disorders who wander away from their families or caregivers and into dangerous situations.
My home State of Iowa has the fifth highest Alzheimer's death rate in America and we have about 63,000 Iowans living with the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Additionally, the CDC identified 1 in 68 children across the country as having autism spectrum disorders. In Iowa alone, about 8,000 individuals have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
This bill will make resources available to equip first responders, law enforcement officials, and other community leaders with the training and tools necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases as soon as possible. With better information sharing, communities can play a central role in reuniting autistic children and other individuals who wander with their families.
Finally, the bill will ensure that local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits that educate and train people on how to proactively prevent and locate missing individuals who wander are eligible for grants from the U.S. Department of Justice. These grants will facilitate the development of training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supply first responders with additional information and resources, and make local tracking technology programs available for individuals who may wander from safety because of their condition. Grant funding may also be used to establish or enhance notification and communications systems for the recovery of missing children with autism.
I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation, which in the 114th Congress passed the Senate unanimously. The House companion bill garnered over 90 cosponsors and passed the other chamber by vote of 346 to 66 in the 114th Congress. Our bill has been endorsed by, among others, the Autism Society of Iowa, Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, SafeMinds, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, ANCOR (American Network of Community Options), National Autism Society of America, the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, the National Down Syndrome Society, and the Color of Autism Foundation.
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