Bill would aid missing who are mentally ill, disabled

A bill to establish an alert system that provides rapid dissemination of information about a missing person who has mental, intellectual or developmental disabilities was advanced by a Senate panel recently.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. James Beach, D-Camden, calls for the attorney general to establish an MVP Emergency Alert System. The bill passed the Assembly in December, under the name the Gold Alert System. The alerts would include physical descriptions and other pertinent details.

“This legislation reflects our collective duty to protect some of the most vulnerable New Jersey residents,” said Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, an Assembly co-sponsor along with Gabriela Mosquera, D-Camden.

“We must do all we can to ensure missing individuals can return home safe and sound, especially when we have all the necessary resources already in place.”

Wandering is a common behavior and a dangerous one for many people with disabilities, noted Katie Macklin, executive director of the Delaware Valley Alzheimer’s Association.

“So we see this as a good thing,” she said. “This would also be beneficial to younger Alzheimer’s patients. Time is of the essence in these situations. The longer the person is missing, you’re thinking serious injury, maybe even death.”

Indeed, individuals with disabilities may have unique challenges that could put them at greater risk.

“Creating an alert system that would assist individuals with disabilities and their families is a sensible plan,” Beach said. “This bill would lend a helping hand to law enforcement, speeding the investigation and research process and ultimately bringing residents safely to their homes.”

Based on the existing Amber and Silver Alert systems for missing children and seniors, respectively, the proposal follows similar systems in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“A special needs individual can get on a bus to go to work or go to the library. At some point, they may get confused or lose their way,” Lampitt remarked.

Jim Casale, executive director of the Developmental Disabilities Association of New Jersey, says it’s a good piece of legislation.

“Our clients are not locked up; they can come and go,” he explained. “Every once in a while a client gets angry and walks out. Maybe they had an argument or a disagreement. It would be nice if we had alerts available.”

Under the legislation, a Gold Alert would be activated when a local law enforcement agency receives a missing persons report for an individual with a developmental disability. The State Police would also aid in the investigation.

Unemployment help

The Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced legislation Feb. 5 to help train and equip the unemployed with the skills necessary to find work in new industries.

Co-sponsored by Mosquera and Assemblymen Troy Singleton and Herb Conaway Jr., both D-Burlington, the bill directs the Secretary of Higher Education to design and implement a pilot program to help eligible adults obtain a career or technical certificate on an accelerated schedule.

“As New Jersey’s economic recovery continues to lag behind our neighboring states, we have to be more aggressive in our approach to boosting jobs and economic opportunity in our state,” Singleton said.

This bill will help equip workers with needed skills while providing businesses and industries with more qualified workers, added Conaway.

Camden County College did something similar in 2012 and 2013 with a state-funded program called Re-employment Eligibility Assessment.

“We were very successful. We saw over 6,600 unemployed people,” noted Melanie Monturano, director for occupational training at the college.

The plan offered a place to find out about job searching, prepare resumes and get training. “We worked heavily with unemployment offices,” Monturano added.

The state cut the program after 2013.

Under the new legislation, the pilot must include at least 20 certificate programs and the time to complete a program may not exceed 12 months. At least 10 programs must be developed and offered by the fall semester of the 2015-16 academic year and at least 10 additional ones by the spring semester of the 2016-17 academic year.

A county college, a county vocational school district, or an adult education program operated in cooperation with the Department of Education or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development may choose to participate in the pilot by implementing one or more of the certificate programs.

Gun law introduced

Mosquera and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, co-sponsored legislation Feb. 12 to strengthen New Jersey’s gun laws and protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence.

“For victims and their children, domestic violence turns a chance to live the American Dream into a horrific nightmare. I know, because I’ve lived that nightmare,” Mosquera said. “Too many victims are killed before they ever have a chance to get out, at the hands of abusers who have easy access to firearms.”

A 2014 study from the Violence Policy Center examining 2012 homicide data reported that 52 percent of females who were murdered were killed with a gun. This study further found that, of those women who were killed with a gun, 61 percent were killed by their male partners — and that most often, females were killed in the course of an argument.

The bill would require domestic abusers to surrender their firearms while a domestic violence restraining order is in effect, or when they are convicted of a domestic violence crime or offense; require an abuser’s firearms purchaser identification cards and permits be suspended during domestic violence restraining orders; require an abuser’s purchaser identification cards and permits be revoked if the individual is convicted of a domestic violence crime or offense; and require cross-referencing of records to assist in determining whether an alleged domestic abuser owns a firearm in order to assist law enforcement’s ability to ensure that an abuser does not have access to firearms.

Original article