Autism Tracking Device Bill Clears House
Legislation that would provide tracking devices and resources to help kids with autism and other developmental disabilities at risk of wandering is one step closer to becoming federal law.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 346 to 66 Thursday to pass the measure known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law.
The bill would expand an existing program that helps people with Alzheimer’s disease who are prone to bolting to include children with developmental disabilities too.
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Approval came one week after the legislation was nearly derailed. Privacy concerns from conservatives led the House Judiciary Committee to postpone a planned markup with little time remaining before the end of the current Congress.
In light of the concerns, language was added to the bill indicating that tracking devices would be “non-invasive and non-permanent” and that “the procedure to install the technology or device does not create an external or internal marker or implant a device or other trackable items.”
Research shows that about half of kids on the spectrum have wandered away from a safe place and advocates point to more than 100 deaths stemming from wandering incidents since 2011 involving children with autism or Down syndrome.
The legislation would provide the U.S. Department of Justice with $2 million annually to issue grants to law enforcement agencies across the country for tracking devices, training and other resources to address wandering.
Families could request wearable tracking devices from participating law enforcement agencies which would not be actively monitored, but could be used to locate a child who is reported missing, advocates said. The legislation would not require parents or guardians to use such technology if they do not wish to.
“This will save lives,” the bill’s chief sponsor, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said on the House floor. “Wandering is a serious problem. We want to get our loved ones, find our loved ones who have developmental disabilities or have Alzheimer’s and make sure that they get back to a safe and secure environment as quickly as possible.”
Even with House passage, however, the bill is not a done deal. The U.S. Senate already approved a version of the legislation by unanimous consent in July, but the measure now heads back to that chamber for reconsideration due to differences in the House bill.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the legislation would not require the use of tracking devices against the wishes of a parent or guardian.