Sens. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, and Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, speak during a Capitol press conference on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.
Legislation that would give parents kits to help identify missing children advanced out of a Pennsylvania Senate panel on Tuesday, with lawmakers and advocates celebrating the progress — though they hope families are never in a situation where they have to use them.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to send the proposal, Senate Bill 460, introduced by Sens. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, and Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, to the full chamber.
Named to represent the more than 460,000 children who go missing in the United States every year, the bill proposes giving parents of first graders kits — costing roughly $3 each — equipped with fingerprinting materials, DNA collection swabs, and other resources to help parents record information to help identify their kids in the event of an emergency.
“Like any parent, I would want absolutely every resource available to bring my children home. That’s why Senate Bill 460 is so important,” Bartolotta said during a press conference. “And that is what it’s all about, giving parents the tools to help them hug their children again, to end the torturous nightmare of forever worrying if their children are safe — or even alive. These free identification kits would give parents the greatest gift of all.”
Parents and guardians would be responsible for storing the collected information, which does not enter a national or state database.
“[The information] would not be maintained in any kind of state or national database, and this ensures that information remains where it belongs: in the hands of parents and guardians, and not the government,” Martin said before the committee vote. “We’re hopeful that this will make a difference in our efforts to expand child ID programs and reunite missing children with their families.
Lawmakers expect the state — with assistance from advocates who already help fund kit distribution programs — would fund the distribution to schools, which would then give them to parents when their child enters first grade, or no later than Nov. 15, at no cost.
Families may opt-out of the program, which — if signed into law — would begin in the 2023-24 academic year.
The American Football Coaches Association founded the National Child Identification Program in 1997, one year after the abduction of Amber Hagerman, the namesake for the Amber Alert, hoping to fingerprint 20 million children. More than two decades later, the program, which also partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has distributed more than 54 million kits.
Parents can also purchase the kits on their own online through the identification program. They range in price — from $4 to $10 — depending on the quantity ordered.
Kenny Hansmire, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and the National Child Identification Program, said the kit, which takes roughly five minutes to complete, gives families the “gift of safety” that he hopes families never have to use.
Mike Singletary, a former professional football player and coach, added that the resource empowers families with information police will need during an emergency.
Data for 2021 from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center show that people under 18 accounted for 30,400 — or 32% — of the total 93,718 active missing person records.
The FBI also offers a mobile app for parents to store photos and information about their child in case of an emergency. The FBI said it is not collecting or storing information entered into the app, noting that data remains on a user’s phone unless they need to send it to law enforcement.
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