WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass a bill Thursday that critics say could open a Pandora’s Box to government tracking of Americans.
H.R. 4919, which passed 346 to 66 in the lower chamber, also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law, mandates the U.S. attorney general award grants to law enforcement officials so that those agencies can create, establish and operate “locative tracking technology programs.”
The programs mission would to find “individuals with forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, or children with developmental disabilities, such as autism, who have wandered from safe environments.”
Additionally, the bill would also require the attorney general to consult with the secretary of health and human services and other health organizations to come up with best practices for the tracking devices.
While advocates of the legislation — like Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith — point to tragedies that could be averted by law enforcement using such technology to find those with mental disabilities who wander into dangerous circumstances, others, like Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, say the good intentions of the bill could be broadly interpreted.
“While this initiative may have noble intentions, ‘small and temporary’ programs in the name of safety and security often evolve into permanent and enlarged bureaucracies that infringe on the American people’s freedoms. That is exactly what we have here. A safety problem exists for people with Alzheimer’s, autism and other mental health issues, so the fix, we are told, is to have the Department of Justice, start a tracking program so we can use some device or method to track these individuals 24/7,” Gohmert said in his floor speech.
He later went on to say, “Sponsors of the bill tell us not to worry, because they got language in there that says the tracking device cannot be invasive, it is totally voluntary AND it is only a couple of million dollars to get it started –so it is not all that much money.”
Gohmert explained, “It is absolutely staggering that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate could be so blind to government overreach that they would allow a federal tracking program, not for criminals in the U.S., not for terrorists, not for illegal immigrants or even immigrants who commit crimes, but for people with ‘developmental disabilities’ a term that is subject to wide misinterpretation. The Senate Republican leaders even brought it to the floor with almost no one there and asked that the new Big Brother program be passed without even having a vote at all – someone just asks for ‘unanimous consent.’ Since no one is advised about the bill being brought up, no one who would object knows to be there, so it passes without anyone ever actually voting for it.”
Rep. Smith, the bill’s main sponsor, however, argued in a press release following the passage of the legislation that the bill will fill a great unmet need, particularly in the autism community—since 2011, over 100 individuals with autism lost their lives after wandering from a safe environment,” said Smith. “Time and training are of the essence when individuals wander and Kevin and Avonte’s Law can help equip local law enforcement with the training and technology to bring these children home safely.”