(From WCMH Columbus, 5/4/18) A bill that could help interactions between law enforcement and people with communication disabilities is moving forward at the Statehouse.
On Wednesday, Ohio lawmakers voted Sub. House Bill 115 out of committee. The bill will head to the House floor for debate next.
The bill, sponsored by Representatives Theresa Gavarone and Scott Wiggam, would create a voluntary registry for people with communication disabilities, such as autism or deafness. The information about their disabilities would be visible to law enforcement in case of a traffic stop if the person was driving or riding in a car.
Among the stories that inspired lawmakers to take on this bill, in addition to stories from their own constituents, were the stories of two men in Dublin. Richard Mazur and Chris Page are both autistic. Both men were arrested in 2016 in separate incidents for operating a vehicle under the influence after failing field sobriety tests. For both, the charges were dismissed after tests showed each was sober.
Diane Page, the mother of Chris Page, said she’s encouraged by the changes that have come about since her son’s arrest.
“I think it’s a fabulous idea because a lot of individuals, like autism that’s a communication disability, have providers, and probably may never drive,” Page said. “And so they are in cars with providers, caseworkers, parents, and I think that’s very important that they have that option to be put in the data system, so I think it’s a great idea.”
The Dublin Police Department, the agency that arrested Mazur and Page, has been supportive of the bill. The police chief submitted testimony in favor of it. Page said she’s also glad to hear law enforcement is supporting the bill.
“Everyone knows somebody with a communication disability, especially with autism since there’s so much of it,” Page said. “So they’re on board, you know. Plus they realize, I hate to say it, but down the road, several attorneys have said, ‘You’re just leading toward a lawsuit.’ You’ve got to be prepared. You need to be educated.”
There is also police training in the works to help law enforcement officers recognize when someone has a communication disability. Carrie Gutowski, an attorney spearheading the pilot program for the training, said the first training seminar is scheduled for mid-June. (Copyright by WCMH – All rights reserved)