Just four days after it was introduced, legislation to help families locate missing loved ones with Autism, Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions unanimously cleared the Senate Thursday. The bill to extend Kevin and Avonte’s Law, was introduced Monday by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
The original law, authored by Grassley and passed in 2018, is named in honor of two boys with autism who perished after going missing. The extension that passed Thursday continues programs established under the law to support training for caregivers to prevent and respond to instances of wandering.
“The Senate’s swift adoption of our bill honors the legacies of young Kevin and Avonte, and demonstrates our commitment to helping communities locate loved ones whose conditions cause them to wander. It’s a commonsense, time-tested bill that’s been instrumental in reuniting families – exactly the kind of policy that Congress should pass without delay,” Grassley said.
The bill is named in honor of two young boys diagnosed with autism who wandered away from supervised settings and drowned. One of the two, nine year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, died in 2008 in the Raccoon River near his home town of Jefferson, Iowa. The other, high school student Avonte Oquendo of Queens, New York, drowned in NYC’s East River in 2014. Six year-old Hamza Elmi of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who was also diagnosed with autism, drowned in the Mississippi River near his home in 2015.
The bill reauthorizes an alert program to help notify communities about missing individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, autism and other developmental disabilities. It also allows Justice Department grants to be used for state and local education and training programs to help prevent wandering and reunite caregivers with missing family members who have a condition linked to wandering. Along with Grassley and Klobuchar, the bill is also cosponsored by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). It must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before it can be signed into law.
“The Autism Society of Iowa strongly supports the reauthorization of Kevin and Avonte’s Law and we thank Senator Grassley for his leadership on this important issue,” said Kris Steinmetz, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Iowa.
“The Autism Society of America applauds the introduction of a bill to reauthorize Kevin and Avonte’s Law. The law honors the memory of Kevin Willis and Avonte Oquendo, two boys with Autism who drowned after wandering from a supervised setting. This law has resulted in increased training of first responders and helped reduce the number of injuries and deaths of people with Autism due to wandering. These trainings are extremely important and must continue and be increased. The Autism Society supports Senator Grassley’s leadership on this issue and stands ready to help move this bill quickly through Congress,” said Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America.