A bill creating an alert system for runaway children is being blocked by its own Senate author.
House Bill 2227, by state Rep. Joe Dorman and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mike Schulz, is named after missing teenager JaRay Wilson. The bill authorizes an alert system to address missing children cases not covered by the state’s Amber Alert system. Missing since October 2012, Wilson lived in Schulz’s district.
“This bill passed unanimously in the House. Senator Mike Schulz, the Senate sponsor, has requested that it not receive a hearing in the Senate Public Safety Committee,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “I have asked him to withdraw that request, but to date it has not been added to the agenda. A reporter asked him about his request and he spoke about a concern that has already been addressed in the current bill.
The system is badly needed and House Bill 2227, contrary to Schulz’s expressed concern, sets up the system in such a way that it will not overload law enforcement with reports of missing children, Dorman said.
“Oklahoma City police officers have told me they receive several thousand runaway reports annually, many of which are duplicative,” Dorman said. “The bill currently addresses the concern over too much information distributed to people by allowing officers to receive alerts only from geographic areas in which they register. Information on a missing child is uploaded to a central website once a report is filed, and when the child is found, that information is removed. This is modeled after the system used by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the national depository for children who go missing. Under the system that would be created, a missing child would only need to be reported one time and would therefore require nothing more than is currently required under law.”
The legislation requires no appropriation and Dorman has offered to privately raise any expense that might come up for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, he said
“There simply isn’t a valid basis to stall the bill and it’s critical that we do something to improve the way we deal with missing children,” said Dorman. “Right now, these children are prime targets for human sex traffickers. They prey on children who have no support system. Runaways are a perfect example. Senate Schulz does have a bill to require law enforcement training related to runaways, and I applaud that bill. It is not as great a tool, though, as this reporting system.”
Dorman has an amendment with the language from House Bill 2227 ready to file to the other bill that deals with runaways, which is currently in the House.
“I have added one sentence to the current language spelling out clearly this will not be used except in a voluntary registration by law enforcement officials,” Dorman said. “There will not be an excessive amount of runaways sent to officers, unless there is a large amount from one specific area, and this system will red flag to officers a glaring concern in that area if this does occur.”
The Senate Public Safety committee’s final meeting to hear House bills took place at 9:30 a.m. this morning.