Congress May Revisit Autism Tracking Devices
Less than a year after fizzling, federal legislation designed to provide tracking devices and other resources to those with developmental disabilities at risk of wandering is back on the table.
Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have reintroduced a bill known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law.
The proposal, which originated nearly four years ago, would reauthorize and expand an existing federal program aimed at helping people with Alzheimer’s disease who tend to bolt to include children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
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“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,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a lead sponsor of the proposal. “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.”
Last year, the Senate and House both approved Kevin and Avonte’s Law, but last-minute changes in the House required the bill to return to the Senate and lawmakers adjourned for the session without holding another vote.
The tweaks, which came after conservatives raised privacy concerns about the bill, led some disability advocacy groups that backed the measure to withdraw their support.
The latest version of the legislation introduced this month is largely in line with the original proposal that the Senate approved last year.
It would allocate $2 million annually for the U.S. Department of Justice to issue grants to local law enforcement and nonprofit agencies to provide electronic tracking devices to families of those at risk of wandering. In addition, funds could be used to pay for education, training and notification systems to prevent elopement and properly respond to situations in which individuals bolt.
In order to head off privacy concerns, the bill includes language specifying that tracking devices provided through the program 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, such as a microchip, or other trackable items.”
Research suggests that about half of kids with autism are prone to wandering. The bill is named for two children with autism who drowned after bolting from safe places.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law was introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and in the Senate by Grassley and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.