Federal legislation aimed at providing tracking devices and resources to those with autism and other developmental disabilities who are at risk of wandering is moving forward.

The U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary voted this week to approve the bill known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law. Now the measure will go before the full Senate for consideration.

The legislation calls for expanding an existing program designed to help people with Alzheimer’s disease who tend to bolt to include children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

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“The bill will make resources available to equip first responders with the training necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases. These activities will help save lives and conserve police resources,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a lead sponsor of the proposal and chair of the judiciary committee.

Versions of the legislation were approved by the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but the two bodies were unable to reconcile differences between their bills before the session concluded.

This time around, Grassley said that he and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., have introduced identical bills.

Under the proposal, the U.S. Department of Justice would receive $2 million annually to use for grants to local law enforcement and nonprofit agencies. Funding could be used to provide electronic tracking devices to families of those at risk of wandering or for education, training, notification systems and other efforts to prevent or better respond to such situations.

In response to privacy concerns voiced last year by conservatives, the legislation includes language specifying that any 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 indicates that about half of children with autism have a tendency to wander away from safe places and the bill is named for two kids on the spectrum who drowned after eloping.

So far this year, the National Autism Association has documented at least 200 wandering cases and 29 deaths, according to Lori McIlwain, the group’s co-founder.

“We’re pleased (the bill) passed in committee and hope to see it enacted this year,” McIlwain said. “Most members of law enforcement are still unaware of where to search, how to interact with individuals with autism and how to recognize the signs of autism. We feel the police training aspect of the bill alone will have a positive and meaningful impact on our community.”

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