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Senate unanimously approves law enforcement autism awareness bills

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Thursday unanimously approved Sen. Tom Barrett’s legislation to help bridge the communications gap between law enforcement and drivers with autism.

“Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to work with autism advocates across the state — including, and perhaps most importantly, my constituent, Xavier DeGroat — on an initiative to help improve law enforcement’s approach when dealing with people on the autism spectrum,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “The result was a bipartisan, bicameral package of bills to provide officers with vital information regarding potential communication hurdles during traffic stops, and to equip them to have positive interactions with drivers with autism or other communication impediments.”

Senate Bill 278 would allow a vehicle owner or their family member who is on the autism spectrum, is deaf, or has hearing loss or other health condition that could impede communication with a law enforcement officer to choose to put a “Communication Impediment” designation on a vehicle registration, driver’s license or both. This voluntary designation would be visible to law enforcement when reviewing the vehicle’s registration or license through the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN) — signaling to the officer that the owner or a family member has a health condition that may impede communication.

LEIN is a secured system not accessible to members of the public, which will protect the privacy of those who volunteer this information about themselves or their family members. Police officers routinely access the system during traffic stops.

SB 279, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., would also allow the same eligible applicants to add the designation to their enhanced driver license or enhanced state ID card application.

House Bill 5541, sponsored by Rep. Frank Liberati, would allow an individual to elect a communication impediment designation on their state ID.

Xavier DeGroat of Delta Township is the founder of the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation and was diagnosed with autism at age 4. He has been a tireless advocate for those with autism to improve their quality of life and opportunities.

The bills were part of ideas highlighted at a “Policing Autism” event in April 2019 attended by Barrett and hosted by DeGroat’s foundation and Lansing area local law enforcement leaders.

SBs 278 and 279 and HB 5541 now head to the governor to be signed into law.