The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-5 on April 14 to move a bill to the full Senate floor that would create a permanent federal funding source for tracking devices for people with autism spectrum disorders at risk of wandering.
“Kevin and Avonte’s Law is a greatly needed piece of legislation because it aims to address this issue by promoting education and training as well as voluntary tracking devices where they are wanted and needed to ensure that no other parent has to go through what Avonte’s and Kevin’s did,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Disability Scoop. “This bill will go a very long way to help people who really need our help and I will continue to fight for its passage in Congress.”
Avonte Oquend was a 14-year-old boy with autism who wandered from his Queens-based school in October 2013. Despite a massive city-wide search, he was not found until three months later. His body was found along the banks of the East River.
Kevin Curtis was a 9-year-old boy with autism who wandered and died after jumping into Iowa’s Raccoon River in 2008.
In January 2014, the Department of Justice announced it would begin providing funding to school districts for GPS trackers to avoid similar tragedies. The funds would come from an existing program that funds grants for tracking devices for people with Alzheimers, known as the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program.
Also that month, Sen. Schumer introduced legislation to create a permanent $10 million federal funding source for such devices. The bill was reintroduced the following year.
The latest version is a paired-down version seeking just $2 million, but it is also co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IO) and is seen as more likely to pass. It would reauthorize the now-expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, and include new provisions for people with autism spectrum disorders, according to a statement from Autism Speaks.
“We must move rapidly to implement the potentially life-saving precautions like voluntary tracking devices that will protect our precious children,” Sen. Schumer told Disability Scoop. “This technology will allow parents of all children with autism, no matter their means, to use the benefits of a high-tech solution to an age-old problem.”