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Barrett, Hertel sponsor law enforcement autism awareness bills

LANSING, Mich. — In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, Sen. Tom Barrett and Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. have introduced bipartisan legislation to help bridge the communications gap between law enforcement and people on the autism spectrum.

“As with many law enforcement situations, information is critical,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “This package will help officers know what kind of situation they are dealing with during a traffic stop and help to improve their interaction with drivers with autism.”

Senate Bill 278 would require the secretary of state to allow a vehicle owner who is on the autism spectrum, is deaf or has hearing loss to choose to put a “Communication Impediment” designation on their vehicle registration. This voluntary designation would be visible to law enforcement when reviewing a vehicle’s registration through the Law Enforcement Information Network — signaling to the officer that the owner has autism or a hearing issue.

SB 279 would also allow the same eligible applicants to add the designation to their enhanced driver license or enhanced state ID card application.

The bills were part of ideas highlighted at a recent “Policing Autism” event attended by Barrett and hosted by the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation and Lansing area local enforcement leaders at the Anderson House Office Building in Lansing.

The foundation was started by DeGroat, a 28-year-old Delta Township man who was diagnosed with autism at age 4 and was bullied throughout his childhood.

“Autism Awareness Month is a time to increase understanding about autism and learn about what we can do to make our communities more accepting and inclusive of autistic people and their families,” Barrett said. “It was great to join Xavier to talk about autism, which impacts one of every 59 children in the U.S., and outline our efforts to improve law enforcement’s approach when dealing with people with autism.”

SBs 278 and 279 were introduced on Tuesday and referred to the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for consideration.