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Feb. 22, 2018
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Minutes for SB74 - Committee on Transportation

Short Title

People with certain disabilities; motor vehicle registration information and notation on state-issued identification cards.

Minutes Content for Wed, Feb 15, 2017

Chairperson Petersen opened the hearing on this bill.  Scott Wells, Revisor, gave a briefing on the bill.  He noted this concerns a set of provisions to be known as Joey's Law.  This would allow a person who needs assistance with cognition, upon having a certification from a medical practitioner, to apply to the Division of Vehicles to receive a decal to affix to the license plate.  A license or state-issued non-driver ID card with a notation that this person needs assistance with cognition could also be received.

Senator Rick Billinger gave proponent testimony (Attachment 1) noting that in August 2016, in Hays, Kansas, Joey Weber, a teenager with autism, was driving his dad's car, and police noted there was an expired tag.  Joey became frightened when the officer's lights and siren came on, and he tried to go to what he considered to be a safe place.  He finally pulled up to seek shelter and ran up to the New Age Services home.  A police officer tackled him, there was a struggle, and Joey was shot and killed.  The vehicle's registration had been paid but the decal had not been affixed to the license plate on the car.  It was a tragedy, and many folks decided something good should come from this tragedy to prevent it from happening to someone else. 

Students in the area contacted Senator Billinger and asked for a possible solution.  In Joey's case, this was his dad's car because Joey's truck was being repaired.  One of the things in this bill is the registration would say special needs.  This would need to be done for all cars in the family.  Another idea was to have a notation on the driver's license.  The officer would not see either of these until later in the traffic stop.  The car has already been stopped and loud noises and lights have already happened.  A third possibility was a special needs decal that could be placed on the license plate.  However, there was concern the driver would be targeted by criminals if the vehicle indicated special needs or autism.  A fourth option was a placard that could be placed on the dash and taken from vehicle to vehicle.  Senator Billinger stood for questions.

Senator Pettey noted this is a sad situation for a bill to be presented.  She asked about medical professionals who could verify that a person needs assistance with cognition (Page 3, line 38).  Mr. Wells said this is the same list of people as may submit proof of eligibility for a disability placard. 

Senator Goddard asked about the optional items--decal or notation on the license.  Mr. Wells said at the current time, there is no fee for either.

Senator Doll questioned how targeting would happen.  Senator Billinger said someone in the community might see that the sticker on the license plate and target this individual.

Senator Hawk questioned on Page 3, line 38, under the category of professionals,whether an applied behavioral analyst licensed by the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board (BSRB) should be added to the list to evaluate the child.  Senator Billinger said that could be added.  Senator Hawk mentioned the placard could go from vehicle to vehicle, like a handicapped placard, and Senator Billinger said he has an amendment coming on this. 

John Weber gave proponent testimony (Attachment 2).  Mr. Weber was Joey's father and traveled from western Kansas to speak today.  He noted the people of Kansas need Joey's Law.  If this law had existed prior to August 2016, Joey would be alive today.  He added he would hate to see another family experience the tragedy his family has had to endure.  The law would be very beneficial for law enforcement.  He added his cousin, the Gove County Sheriff, said that people don't like to be labeled, but sometimes it would be good if they were.  He asked the Committee to give this bill favorable consideration.  Chairperson Petersen expressed sorrow for his loss and said he appreciated Mr. Weber bringing this bill forward.

Rick Cagan, Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness Kansas (NAMI Kansas), gave proponent testimony (Attachment 3).  Members of this grassroots organization are individuals living with mental illnesses and family members who provide care and support.  NAMI supports this bill and making accommodations for individuals with cognitive impairments so their conditions are known to law enforcement is a step forward.  Mr. Cagan added there are technical issues to be solved in the bill, but his organization would like to see this included in statute.  It should be completely voluntary on the part of the individual to make their condition known. This could impact a wide range of individuals, not only with autism spectrum disorder, but individuals with other kinds of cognitive impairments, such as mental illness, traumatic brain injury, and certain forms of dementia, who are still able to obtain a driver's license. 

Senator Hardy asked, relative to the suggestions put forth in this bill, whether the autistic person would be recognized prior to a police officer putting his lights on.  Mr. Cagan said a lot depends on what approach the bill ends up taking to identify the individual.  If there is a decal, it prepares the officer.  There may not be anything to correct 100% of scenarios.  Mr. Cagan said he understood Mr. Weber had panicked.  At that point, if the identification would have been there, the officer could have handled the situation differently.  For individuals with serious mental illness who panic or run, officers are trained in the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) curriculum to de-escalate the situation.

Senator Schmidt said Mr. Cagan indicated the Legislature made changes to the statutes about the right to know whether a person of interest is being treated at a community mental health center and asked him for explanation.  Mr. Cagan thought it was four or five years ago, the Legislature adopted changes to statute that allowed an officer to breach that privacy barrier.  An officer who approaches a person with cognitive issues could contact the local mental health center to see if this person was a patient.

Senator Hawk asked about having BSRB licensees included in the bill to vouch for an individual's cognitive impairment.  Mr. Cagan said that may work for certain conditions, and a qualified mental health professional should be able to speak to the issue of someone's cognitive impairment.  Senator Hawk suggested maybe this bill should be extended to persons with mental health categories rather than just persons with cognitive issues.  Mr. Cagan did not see it limited strictly to persons with autism spectrum disorders, but the bill should be crafted to any individual who has cognitive impairment but still qualifies for a driver's license.  

Teresa Day gave proponent testimony (Attachment 4) noting she is the proud mother of two teenage autistic sons. She hopes all will agree that this bill is just good public policy.  Grant, her 17-year old son, posted on Facebook last year:  "I'm not sure how I'd act if I was confronted by law enforcement.  I'm afraid that I might panic, which could lead to disaster."  These words point out that Grant is not only intelligent, but is also self-aware, and that is a salient point in this discussion. She added that persons with high-functioning autism lead relatively normal lives.

Mrs. Day noted special accommodations are not being requested but rather these are persons who have passed state requirements to receive a driver's license. They have mastered the ability to deal with external stimuli in a car and have proven themselves capable on the road.  Observing a police car in the rear view mirror with flashing lights would cause new and confusing stimuli. Mrs. Day believes that Joey's Law is a great solution to both law enforcement and families of persons with disabilities.  She stood for questions.

Senator Hardy asked if a law enforcement officer's lights flashed in the rear view mirror would Grant pull over or flee?  Mrs. Day said she is hopeful that he would pull over.  She, her husband, and the psychologist work on strategies but because of the additional stimuli she couldn't be guaranteed of that.  Joey's Law adds additional insurance that the police will understand and he may need additional patience as he juggles stimuli. 

Grant Day provided proponent testimony (Attachment 5) noting the story of Joey Weber is depressing, but could lead to a positive change with Joey's Law, which would help people with autism. Mr. Day explained that people with autism are generally peaceful, but sometimes panic in high intensity situations. Last year, Mr. Day attended his first prom, and although numerous precautions were taken, he had a complete meltdown in public.  People with autism are highly sensitive to loud noise/music.  Joey's Law includes accommodations during encounters with law enforcement.  Mr. Day supports Joey's Law.

Mike Oxford, Executive Director, Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, provided proponent testimony(Attachment 6). He suggested making the provisions applicable to cognitive issues more broadly because there are other disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, that could end up with the same result.  He referred to data from 2013 to 2015 which concluded that almost half the people who die at the hands of police have some kind of disability.  In terms of the "dangler" (placard) vs. the decal, it is a real issue that people can be preyed upon if the cognitive condition is clearly identified to the public.  Something that can be displayed when needed while driving and put away to be more private while not driving would be preferred. 

Written proponent testimony was furnished by Kenneth Wasserman (Attachment 7) who was the attorney for Joey Weber, and Representative Gail Finney (Attachment 8).

There were no opponents.

Ed Klumpp, Legislative Liaison for Kansas associations of Chiefs of Police, Sheriffs, and Peace Officers, provided neutral testimony (Attachment 9).  He noted it was a tragic event that lead to this bill.  All want the same thing, that is, to find ways to minimize risk to all parties involved when law enforcement has encounters with the public. He offered to answer questions about law enforcement procedures and added he has 35 years as a law enforcement officer. He said nothing will make it 100% sure this will not happen again.  Law enforcement encounters with the public are too fluid and have too many elements.  It is impossible to address every situation through law.  He said law enforcement is an information-driven occupation, and any information that helps identify a person with disabilities is important to determine how to best de-escalate a situation and have a good outcome. 

The pros and cons of the four options for identifying the person with a disability have been discussed.  All four together will not address every situation, but any piece of information is of value.  Officers are very much aware that a decal on the license tag could be a marker that could make a person with cognitive impairment vulnerable to victimization.  In 2007 the Autism Society surveyed persons with autism and their families and revealed that 35% have been victims of crime.  That is a much higher percentage than among the normal population.  Virginia is the only state doing something similar and it has information on the driver's license and the ID card as well as a placard for those with  hearing and speech impairment.  

Chairperson Petersen asked if the rest of his testimony could be continued on Friday, February 17.  Mr. Klumpp indicated he would be available and Chairperson Petersen indicated the Committee will work the bill that same day.