Senate unanimously approves law enforcement autism awareness bills

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

“It has been wonderful to work with my constituent, Xavier DeGroat, and other autism advocates on this initiative to help improve law enforcement’s approach when dealing with people on the autism spectrum,” said Barrett, R-Charlotte. “This bipartisan package could provide officers with invaluable information about a possible communication hurdle during a traffic stop to help them have a positive interaction with a driver with autism or other communication impediment.”

Senate Bill 278 would allow a vehicle owner or their family member who is on the autism spectrum, is deaf or has hearing loss 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 autism or a hearing issue.

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., D-East Lansing, would also allow the same eligible applicants to add the designation to their enhanced driver license or enhanced state ID card application.

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 attended by Barrett and hosted by DeGroat’s foundation and Lansing area local law enforcement leaders.

SBs 278 and 279 now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.