A bill that would establish a statewide alert for adults with dementia or developmental disabilities received preliminary approval in both the House and Senate last week.
State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, sponsored the measure, which is similar to the Amber Alert system for kidnapped children.
“I’m thrilled to see strong support for the bill among lawmakers,” Rotundo said in a release. “The Silver Alert Program protects some of our most vulnerable citizens and their families, who we’ve seen suffer in several cases in recent years.”
Last year there were several instances where Mainers with dementia went missing, and in one case it resulted in the death of an Auburn resident, according to the release.
The legislation would require the Department of Public Safety to work with the Department of Transportation, the Maine Turnpike Authority, the governor’s office, representatives of broadcast groups and law enforcement agencies to develop a uniform procedure for alerting the public of cases of concern, through media and highway message signs, according to the release.
“Currently there is no consistency, and it doesn’t seem fair that the likelihood of someone being found should be determined by where they live in the state,” Rotundo said. “It made sense that combining the alert with mandatory training for law enforcement ensures that the state is taking a comprehensive, consistent and systematic approach to locating lost individuals.”
Several public safety and community advocacy groups worked together to build consensus on the legislation. Key groups included the Maine Press Association, the Maine Broadcasters Association, the Maine Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Maine Sheriff’s Association, the Auburn Police Department, the Public Safety Department, Legal Services for the Elderly and the Maine State Police.
During last week’s House floor debate, state Rep. Richard Sykes, R-Harrison, spoke out against the bill.
“We could simply tell the criminal justice academy’s board of trustees to set in policy a missing senior citizen’s alert,” he said. Sykes then criticized the fiscal note attached to Rotundo’s bill, which said any costs associated with developing a Silver Alert system could be absorbed by existing resources.
“What is it that the department of public safety is not going to do as a result of spending money developing a Silver Alert program?” he said.
The proposal will be scheduled for further votes in the Senate and House next week.
— Rebekah Metzler