Many times during the legislative process, some of the best ideas for a new bill come directly from you, our constituents—the hardworking citizens of Ohio. Ultimately, as your state representatives, we’re here to be a resource and voice for you as we enact legislation for the benefit of our state. Recently, the Ohio House took inspiration from a dilemma that a few local families were experiencing to effect change that would benefit other Ohioans in a similar situation.
In separate circumstances, two people from different parts of Ohio contacted their state representative with concerns about their teenage children with communication disorders who were beginning to drive. These parents had understandable concerns about the possibility of a situation involving their child being pulled over and unable to effectively answer the officer’s questions. This could put an officer on alert and be seen as a cause for concern.
With the input from their constituents in mind, Representatives Theresa Gavarone and Scott Wiggam went to work on legislation that would help facilitate more effective communication between law enforcement officials and those with communication disabilities, such as autism.
House Bill 115 would establish a voluntary program through the Ohio Department of Public Safety through which an individual or a minor’s parent or guardian may submit a verification form, signed by their physician, to the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles to be designated as an individual with a communication disability. This information is then made available to state and local law enforcement through the Law Enforcement Automated Data Systems (LEADS). It is important to know that this is a no labels initiative and only law enforcement would be able to access and utilize the information.
As a result, with this database, law enforcement officers would be made aware of a communication disability upon running the vehicle license plate and before approaching the driver. Just this simple knowledge would allow an officer to rely on their training for how to best serve those with a disability, promoting safety for both the driver and officer and encouraging better communication.
House Bill 115 recently passed the House floor unanimously and is under further consideration in the Ohio Senate. This bill is a simple, common-sense change that can help so many Ohioans with communication disabilities who already struggle with day-to-day tasks that many of us may take for granted. More important to note, however, is the fact that the motivation for this change came directly from a mom or a dad who had a vision for making life easier for their children and for our law enforcement. The best ideas truly come from you, and I encourage you to participate in the available channels of communication with my office so that we may continue to make sensible reforms in Ohio.