TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate voted Tuesday to move forward the proposed Joey’s Law for final action Wednesday.
It is named for Joey Weber, a Hays resident with autism, who was killed by a law enforcement officer last year after Weber panicked after the vehicle he was driving was pulled over for a traffic stop.
Sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, was encouraged by the Senate’s voice vote to move it and other bills to final action Wednesday. If it clears the Senate, it will head to the House.
The bill, now called substitute for Senate Bill 74 and amended Tuesday on the floor, would provide options for drivers wishing to have themselves identified as a person needing assistance with cognition, and obtaining a diagnosis. That includes but would not be limited to people with autism spectrum disorder. The options:
• A placard for inside the vehicle.
• A decal on the license plate.
• An indicator on the driver’s license or on an identification card.
• Information on the vehicle’s registration.
“If we can do anything in here to make sure this never happens again, we should do it,” Billinger told the Senate.
Some Senators had concerns:
• Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, thought it was too broadly worded and wanted it narrowed to autism spectrum disorder. His amendment failed.
• Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said she was trying to understand the need for this bill. “Why were they driving in the first place?” she asked, if he wasn’t able to understand how to respond to law enforcement. Shouldn’t there be a responsible adult providing help? Pilcher-Cook asked.
• Sen. Randall Hardy, R-Salina, said he considers it “a false sense of security law,” because even if a driver opts for the identification measures, a law enforcement officer might have lights flashing and an escalating situation before he knows about the driver’s cognition. “I don’t know that this is going to help anyone,” Hardy said.
Sen. Bruce Givens, R-El Dorado, said he supported the bill as a special education administrator. It’s a national trend to let law enforcement know if there is a cognition problem, he said.
Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.