On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill 346-66 that would allow the federal government to grant law enforcement agencies and non-profit groups tracking devices for children with developmental disabilities and senior citizens struggling with Alzheimer’s who are at risk of wandering away. H.R. 4919, also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law, is dedicated to two kids with autism, 9-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills who drowned in a river near a park and 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo who also drowned in a river after meandering away from his school in the middle of the day. Though the bill was proposed with arguably good intentions, many question whether the new legislation is giving far too much power to the federal government.
The bill was originally proposed by New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, who chairs the Congressional Autism Caucus and the Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force, in April “to help protect children with developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and seniors with Alzheimer’s, who are prone to wandering.” It pushes to “implement lifesaving technology programs” which could help find those individuals when they go astray.
“We all empathize with a parent who learns that their child is missing, including and especially when that child has autism or another developmental disability,” Rep. Smith said. “When children with a disability or seniors with Alzheimer’s do wander, time and training are essential to ensure their safe return.”
“My home state of New Jersey has the highest prevalence rate of autism in the country, with 1 in 41 children on the spectrum—a 12 percent increase in the last two years. While wandering safety and prevention programs for children with autism are currently in place and making a positive impact through law enforcement agencies, I’ve heard from constituents that there aren’t enough resources to support these critical programs and that families who need them don’t have access,” Smith added.
Rick Manning, the President of Americans For Limited Government, issued a statement last month warning that the bill “would allow for the Attorney General to authorize tracking chips to be inserted involuntarily into people who are incapacitated with Alzheimer’s and other fatal dementias.”
“Congress would be granting the Attorney General the power to regulate when human chips are used,” Manning continued. “But if this is about patient needs, why is this under the Department of Justice and not under the Department Health and Human Services? That alone makes the program suspicious. But the real question is why the government would have any role whatsoever in regulating the circumstances under which tracking devices are to be used on a mandatory basis, when such a system could be established by the private sector, and only ever used after private consultations between doctors, patients and patients’ families, when it is appropriate.”