When Donald Trump assumes the presidency in January, Congress will have a lot on its to-do list. Confirmations for positions within Executive Agencies will take place. Voting on Supreme Court nominations will take place. Most importantly, the Senate will vote on H.R. 4919 (Kevin and Avonte’s Law). Earlier this year, Representative Christopher Smith (R., N.J.) introduced this bill. Several weeks later, the House passed the bill. H.R. 4919 tallies at only 21 pages, but one should not let its small size diminish its possible massive impact.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law: History
As Ali Meyer reports in the Washington Free Beacon, “in 2008, Kevin Curtis Wills, a 9-year-old boy with autism, jumped into a river near a park and drowned. In 2014, a 14-year-old boy with autism, Avonte Oquendo, left his school and drowned in a river.” According to a national survey, 33% “of school-age children with autism wander, or bolt, from adult supervision in any given year.” Rep. Christopher Smith chairs the Congressional Autism Caucus and the Alzheimer’s Disease Task Force. With information in mind, Smith introduced this bill with the intention of stopping these recent horrific tragedies from recurring.
Nevertheless, good intentions alone should not determine one’s support for this bill. The remedy that this bill seeks to apply is as startling as the stories it seeks to address.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law: Orwellian Dream
The beginning of Kevin and Avonte’s Law states that it seeks “to promote initiatives that will reduce the risk of injury and death relating to the wandering characteristics of some children with autism.” To complete this task, the bill states that the Attorney General
shall award grants to health care agencies, State and local law enforcement agencies, or public safety agencies to assist such agencies in designing, establishing, and operating locative tracking technology programs for individuals with forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, or children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, who have wandered from safe environments. (Emphasis added)
You read that correctly. To combat the issue of autistic children wandering away and harming themselves the Attorney General will equip them with government tracking devices. Even more startling, the original text of the resolution “authorized the Attorney General to insert tracking chips into individuals involuntarily.” The contemporary version requires parents/legal guardians to consult with their healthcare providers to equip their loved ones with this tracking technology.
It’s easy to write off Kevin and Avonte’s Law as charitable. In fact, I agree with Representative Smith when he says that we should “all empathize with a parent who learns that their child is missing, including and especially when that child has autism or another developmental disability.” However, the premise that children who cannot help themselves must therefore be helped through government monitoring and tracking creates more issues than solutions. Allowing the government to install tracking devices in/on the most vulnerable within our society fulfills Orwellian dreams, it does not properly solve an issue that can be addressed through monitoring strategies operated by the loved ones of these individuals.