As your state representative, my goal is always to serve the people of Wayne County and support legislation that makes Ohio a safe and great place to work, play and raise a family. This means not only researching and studying the effects of various pieces of legislation, but also listening to constituents and working to address their concerns and facilitate solutions.
The best bills are those that are constituent-driven and inspired, and my job centers around making your voices heard at the Ohio Statehouse.
In April of 2017 a constituent, Cynthia, called my office about a concern she had. Her son has a mild form of Autism and would soon receive his driver’s license. She was concerned that in the event of a potential encounter with police, he would not communicate in a way that the law enforcement officer expected which could lead to unnecessary confrontation.
In the news she had seen and read several occasions where this type of communication gap lead to heighten tensions. Cynthia knew that Ohio’s police officers have access to a system called the Law Enforcement Automated Data Systems (LEADS) which allows them to perform a records check on individuals they will confront on traffic stop. The officers only need the license plate number or the driver’s license number.
After some brain storming I began the law-writing process. I soon learned that my colleague, Rep. Theresa Gavarone, (R-Bowling Green) had begun working on the same issue. Because of feedback from our constituents in our districts, we were inspired to jointly sponsor House Bill 115. This important piece of legislation, which improves communication between law enforcement and individuals with communication disabilities, was recently signed by Governor Kasich into law.
House Bill 115 allows an individual to voluntarily submit a verification form, signed by their physician, to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to be designated as an individual with a communication disability. This information will be made available to state and local law enforcement through the (LEADS). Importantly, only members of law enforcement will be able to access this database, ensuring a no-labels system that keeps personal information private.
The database would be available to individuals with autism, a hearing impairment, PTSD, or another communication disability. Information from this database will help law enforcement officers to effectively facilitate communication with disabled individuals in the event of a traffic stop.
When officers are notified of the disability through LEADS before they approach the vehicle, they are better able to serve the individual by understanding that they may encounter a gap in communications and may need to approach the dialogue differently depend on the situation.
This bill was endorsed by state law enforcement groups as well as many different disability organizations. It was passed in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate unanimously.
House Bill 115 strengthens our communities by preventing miscommunication during traffic stops and making sure that disabled individuals are fairly heard and understood. This legislation benefits both law enforcement officers and Ohio’s disabled population, improving communication, lessening the stigma, and leading to more knowledgeable and respectful interactions between the two parties. Through this bill, I am happy to say we have taken a step toward making Ohio a more welcome and safe place for all.
We look forward to having this document available at ood.ohio.gov after Aug. 1
— Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) represents District 1, which includes Wayne County, in the Ohio House of Representatives.