Ohio House passes bill to help people with communications difficulties interact with police

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – A proposed law to help interactions with police and people with communication disabilities passed the House of Representatives today with overwhelming support.

HB 115 was approved 93-0 on Wednesday.

Concerned parent and mother of two autistic sons, Jenny Hughes, testified for the bill when it was still in committee. Her older son Jay, 23, has a driver’s license.

“He’s not just ignoring or being defiant. He doesn’t understand,” she said. “When he started driving I got nervous because of the certain incidents that have happened in the past with law enforcement and people with disabilities.”

One of those incidents involved an autistic man, Chris Page, who was arrested in Dublin for OVI despite being sober. His charges were eventually dropped.

Hughes worried what could happen if she got pulled over with her younger son Gabe, 22.

“I have a CCW. So, I figured with the lights from a police car it would over -stimulate him and he’d start bouncing back and forth and I didn’t want an officer to think he was going for my weapon,” she said.

She said Jay may not respond to an officer’s commands at all.

“He would probably freeze up, which is what I’m afraid of or start crying,” she said. “He’s 6-foot, 250 pounds, so I don’t want an officer to think, ‘Why is this grown man crying?’ and not realize there could be a reason behind that.”

The law, if passed, would allow people with communication disabilities, like autism or deafness, to put their names on a voluntary registry visible to police officers in the case of a traffic stop.

“I think for a law enforcement official it gives them the ability to better assess the situation and make sure that it doesn’t get escalated because of misunderstandings in that communication,” said State Rep. Scott Wiggam.

“It’s going to help the law enforcement know what they’re dealing with when they get to the car and it’s going to help keep the occupants of the car safer,” said State Rep. Theresa Gavarone.

State Rep. Wiggam said he hopes the bill will make it to the Senate floor in a few months.

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