COLUMBUS—State Representative Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) has introduced legislation aimed at better facilitating communication between law enforcement and individuals with communication disabilities.

House Bill 115 would establish a program through the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) through which an individual may voluntarily submit a verification form, signed by his or her 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 only through the Law Enforcement Automated Data Systems, more commonly referred to as LEADS. Individuals over the age of eighteen would be eligible to enroll in this system, as well as minors who are enrolled by their parents or guardians.

Jenny Hughes, a constituent of Rep. Gavarone’s 3rd House District, brought forward the idea for the legislation. Hughes is the mother of two autistic children, one of whom drives. Because some of the symptoms of autism can be similar to those of an impaired driver, the mother raised concern that her son potentially fidgeting, not responding or not making eye contact could lead an officer to the false conclusion that her son is under the influence or even a threat to the officer’s safety.

“House Bill 115 is an example of how great ideas can come from constituents who bring forward their concerns,” Gavarone said. “I am so happy that Jenny Hughes met with me to get the ball rolling on this well thought out piece of legislation.”

Through working with local police chiefs in the district, Gavarone introduced House Bill 115 along with joint-sponsor Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster).

“The meeting I had with Chief Hetrick and Chief Paez was instrumental because of the suggestions only someone in their position could give,” Gavarone said. “When they told me how supportive they were of this idea, along with Sheriff Wasylyshyn, it became clear to me just how helpful this bill could be for law enforcement and people who live with communication disabilities.”

House Bill 115 is currently being deliberated in the House Community and Family Advancement Committee.

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