Starting off on a better foot

Monte Renzelman

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, is proposing legislation that would allow law enforcement officers, social workers and other first reponders a way to quickly ascertain people with developmental disabilities.

Schmick said a parent asked him to sponsor the bill, which is based on a successful program in the Tri-Cities area.

“It’s been very beneficial to officers there, and hopefully it will help all of our first responders deal well with this community,” he said.

The ranking member on the Health Care and Wellness Committee, Schmick said the designation on a driver’s license or identification card would be “completely voluntary” and could be helpful in a variety of circumstances. For example, it could help alert officers to why a person is having trouble with loud noises or flashing lights in an emergency situation.

“In many cases, we have specific training for our first responders, law enforcement and social workers in how to communicate and work with those who have developmental disabilities,” Schmick said. “But sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain, especially in high-stress or tense situations. This designation, for those who seek it out and want it, could help provide a quick verification that they are someone who may require a little more attention, explanation or communication.”

Asotin Police Chief Monte Renzelman, a former school resource officer, said the proposed legislation sounds like a good idea and could be another useful tool for law enforcement.

However, Renzelman said he is concerned about how the general public would perceive and treat a person who has a developmental disability listed on his or her identification.

“When law enforcement is dealing with someone with a developmental disability, we have a lot of training to handle those situations, and we’re already taking those steps,” Renzelman said. “My only concern about the bill is how the public would treat someone who has that on their identification.”

Schmick said making it optional will help protect people who don’t want to be singled out. In order to apply for the designation, a person would need proper documentation from a physician or the Department of Social and Health Services that demonstrates eligibility.

The bill now heads to committee for a vote, along with several other proposed laws from 9th District lawmakers. The 60-day 2020 legislative session began a week ago.

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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