Proposed law would help people with communications difficulties interact with police

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – A new bill introduced by Ohio lawmakers could help make interactions between law enforcement and people with communication disabilities much easier.

Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow people with communication disabilities to put their names on a voluntary registry visible to law enforcement in case of a traffic stop.

Representatives Theresa Gavarone (R-District Three) and Scott Wiggam (R-District One) are sponsoring House Bill 115. Both said they heard from people in their districts who were concerned about their children with autism or other communication disabilities.

The bill also comes after two NBC4 stories in the fall of 2016 about two men in Dublin arrested for drunk driving. Neither was intoxicated, but both failed field sobriety tests because of their disabilities.

Diane Page still remembers the day in March 2016 her son Chris was arrested.

“It was very traumatizing for him and for us,” Page said.

Chris was stopped for speeding, but he failed field sobriety tests and was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence. The charges were eventually dismissed, but his family has been pushing for changes to protect people like Chris, writing state lawmakers with their concerns.

“If this can save time and money and give peace of mind to individuals that have the communication disability that want to sign up for this, then I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Rep. Wiggam said.

The registry would be voluntary, with no labels on license plates or physical licenses. Wiggam said the information would be accessible to law enforcement officers in the database they use when they make a traffic stop for a violation.

People who want to be in the registry would need a doctor’s signature to verify they have a communication disability, such as autism or deafness. Adults would be able to enroll in the registry, while parents or guardians could enroll a minor in the registry. Wiggam said the cost would be minimal, as the registry would be administered through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

For the Page family, the registry would be a big step in the right direction, in conjunction with officer training.

“It’s what we need,” Diane Page said. “It’s going to make a difference, it’s going to make a huge difference in treating individuals like autism—that’s a communication disability—with respect.”

The Mazur family, whose son Richard was also arrested for OVI in Dublin, agreed.

“What happened to these adults with disabilities in the city of Dublin is inexcusable. Collectively, these men and their families were put though a lot of unnecessary anguish and the victims never received an apology or show of remorse from anyone. They were even made to pay court costs; can you believe that?” Lech Mazur, Richard’s father, said.

Mazur quoted in part from the Dublin Police Department mission statement, saying, “Professionalism. Integrity. Respect. Commitment. The Police are supposed to be held accountable to the highest level of honesty, truthfulness, and ethical conduct while ensuring that all persons are treated with equality, dignity, and courtesy.”

He added, “The way our local law enforcement officials chose to respond to these incidents showed that there is a lot of work needed to get everyone up to speed on the core values. The introduction of House Bill 115 is clearly a step in the right direction. Getting the pertinent government branches involved in this bill proposal is fantastic. Being able to link a communicative disabled person’s driver’s license to their registration will help police identify react accordingly to any traffic stop. It’s an opportunity to make this right and show other states and all law enforcement agencies that Ohio is concerned with the well-being of our individuals with disabilities.”

Dublin Police Chief Heinz von Eckartsberg, who is the Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, is aware of the proposed legislation and has already reached to out to the bill’s sponsors through the OACP’s lobbyist, indicating the OACP’s desire to support the bill and to help them strengthen it. All Dublin Police officers are undergoing training offered by the Ohio Attorney General’s office on Autism and other disabilities.

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