Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) released the following statement after introducing H.R. 4253, the Avonte’s Law Act of 2015 (Avonte’s Law), which authorizes the creation of a grant program to provide local law enforcement agencies with resources, education, and training to better respond to situations related to children with autism and other disabilities who wander. (Please find attached a copy of the legislation):
“Avonte’s Law was inspired by the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Avonte Oquendo of Queens, New York. Avonte was an autistic child who disappeared after wandering away from his school. Sadly, more than a month passed before his lifeless body was found.
“Wandering” is very common in children with autism and other disabilities, and sometimes children who wander are non-verbal or cannot communicate well with others. This can lead to dangerous interactions with strangers and even law enforcement officers.
“Avonte’s Law authorizes $10 million in grants through the Department of Justice to provide local law enforcement agencies with the resources they need to better prepare first responders, schools, and families for situations like Avonte’s, with the hope that we can prevent tragedies like this from happening again.
“Furthermore, this legislation requires the Attorney General to establish standards and best practices for the administration on voluntary “tracking” systems used by law enforcement agencies awarded funding through this program. Tracking devices are one of the many ways we can help prevent another tragic situation like Avonte’s, and by taking a holistic approach to this issue, we can help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) live safe and happy lives all around the country.”
A March 2014 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1 in 68 American children are born with a form of ASD, representing a 30% increase from just two years ago.
Joining Hastings as original co-sponsors of the resolution were (5): Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Patrick E. Murphy (D-FL), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
This bill is a companion to Senate Bill (S.163), introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer and co sponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.