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Autism Wandering Bill Gains Momentum In Congress by Michelle Diament

Federal legislation addressing the needs of kids with autism and other developmental disabilities who wander is one step closer to becoming law.

In a 15 to 5 vote this week, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary cleared the bill known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law. It will now go before the full Senate for consideration.

The legislation would expand an existing federal program that provides resources for people with Alzheimer’s disease who are at risk of wandering, making offerings available to those with autism and other developmental disabilities who have a tendency to elope.

Under the bill, the U.S. Department of Justice would be able to provide grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to pay for free electronic tracking devices for those with developmental disabilities and individuals with Alzheimer’s who are prone to bolting.

Research suggests that about half of kids with autism have wandered away from a safe place.

The proposal calls for $2 million to be allocated annually for the program over five years. In addition to tracking devices, funding would also be available for training and other efforts to address the issue.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., first proposed federal legislation to address wandering among kids with disabilities in 2014 following the death of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo who had autism and went missing from his New York City school.

Schumer’s proposal failed to garner much traction until this year when U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-sponsored a modified version of the bill, which also carries the name of Kevin Wills, a 9-year-old with autism who went missing and drowned in an Iowa river in 2008.

In addition to advancing in the Senate, similar legislation was introduced this week in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., adding momentum for the proposal.

“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,” Schumer 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.”