Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley Introduces Bill to Assist in Locating Missing Persons with Alzheimer’s, Autism

Mar 02, 2016

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley yesterday evening introduced legislation with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to help families locate missing loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease, autism or other related conditions that may cause them to wander away from their caregivers. The legislation, titled Kevin and Avonte’s Law, will reauthorize the expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, and include new provisions to support people with autism.

“We’ve all seen the heartbreaking stories of families frantically trying to locate a missing loved one whose condition caused him or her to wander off.  We’ve also seen benefits of the Amber Alert program and other notification systems to locate missing children and bring relief to families through community assistance.  Kevin and Avonte’s Law will use similar concepts and other technology to help locate people with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia as well as children with autism spectrum disorders who may be prone to wander away from their families or caregivers.  It also will make resources available to equip first responders and other community officials with the training necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases.  With better information sharing, communities can play a central role in reuniting these children with their families,” Grassley said.

Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named in honor of two boys with autism who died after their conditions caused them to wander.  Nine year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, jumped into Iowa’s Raccoon River near a park and tragically drowned in 2008.  Avonte Oquendo, 14, wandered away from his school and drowned in New York City’s East River in 2014.

Iowa has the fifth highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, with 1,252 deaths in 2013. About 63,000 Iowans are living with the disease.  More than 8,000 Iowa children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, according to a state coalition, and its prevalence is on the rise.

The bill reauthorizes existing programs designed to assist in locating Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia patients, and it adds new support for people with autism.  It allows Justice Department grants to be used by state and local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits for education and training programs with the goal of proactively preventing individuals with these conditions from wandering off.  The bill also provides access to resources for state and local agencies and organizations to assist in locating these individuals who become separated from their caregivers.  The grants will facilitate the development of training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supply first responders with additional information and resources, and make local tracking technology programs available for individuals who may wander from safety because of their condition.  Grant funding may also be used to establish or enhance notification and communications systems for the recovery of missing children with autism.

Kevin and Avonte’s Law is also cosponsored by Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Grassley’s statement for the Congressional Record on Kevin and Avonte’s Law is posted below.  Text of the bill is available here.

Prepared Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
In the Congressional Record
“Introduction of Kevin and Avonte’s Law”
March 1, 2016

Mr. President, today Senators Schumer, Tillis and I will introduce legislation to help America’s families locate missing loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease, autism or related conditions that may cause them to wander. Our bill would extend existing programs designed to assist in locating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients.  It also adds new support for people with autism.
  
We have named the legislation in honor of two boys with autism who perished because their condition caused them to wander.  One of these children, nine year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, slipped into Iowa’s Raccoon River near a park and tragically drowned in 2008.  The other, 14 year-old Avonte Oquendo, wandered away from his school and drowned in New York City’s East River several years ago.  

Theirs are not isolated cases.  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.  

We’ve also seen benefits of notification systems to locate missing children and bring relief to families through community assistance.  Our bill will use similar concepts and other technology to help locate people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia as well as children with autism spectrum disorders who may be prone to wander away from their families or caregivers.  

My home state of Iowa has the fifth highest Alzheimer’s death rate in America, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  As further noted by the Alzheimer’s Association, which we consulted on this bill’s development, as many as one in three seniors will die with a form of dementia.  About 63,000 Iowans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.  

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information on the incidence of autism in this country.  The CDC identified 1 in 68 children as having autism spectrum disorder.  Experts tell us that, in Iowa alone, about 8,000 individuals have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, and we worked closely with the Autism Society of Iowa on the development of this bill.  

Because police often are the first people to respond when a child goes missing, the bill also will make resources available to equip first responders and other community officials with the training necessary to better prevent and respond to these cases.  With better information sharing, communities can play a central role in reuniting these children with their families.

Finally, the bill will ensure that grants from the U.S. Department of Justice also can be used by state and local law enforcement agencies and nonprofits for education and training programs to proactively prevent and locate missing individuals with these conditions.  The grants will facilitate the development of training and emergency protocols for school personnel, supply first responders with additional information and resources, and make local tracking technology programs available for individuals who may wander from safety because of their condition.  Grant funding may also be used to establish or enhance notification and communications systems for the recovery of missing children with autism.

Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.

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