Gov. Edwards signs bill protecting autistic children, adults in Louisiana
BATON ROUGE, La. (WDSU) – A group of Kenner residents made a push four months ago to protect autistic children in Jefferson Parish.
Brandy Bourgeois, who has an autistic son, and Christina Martin, who has an autistic daughter, worked with community activist Seyli Molina to create changes after a 16-year-old autistic boy died in the custody of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in January.
The three ladies worked with State Rep. Joseph A. Stagni, who represents Kenner. He took their idea to state lawmakers, ultimately leading to House Bill 317, which Edwards signed into law in June.
“Joe Stagni took the concerns of a community leader and parents of autistic children and he heard us. He listened to us and he did exactly what I imagine a representative is supposed to do. He represented our ideas. He represented what we were seeking to do, which was protect people on the spectrum and with mental illness and he never steered off course. He never added his own agenda,” Molina said.
“I’m just so excited that we were able to get this pushed through. There was no backlash from it. We got all yays and zero nays. So, there couldn’t be anymore happiness in my heart about that. It really makes me happy and I feel like I’m fulfilling something so many other parents have been searching for and it’s sort of a congratulatory moment for us all,” Martin said.
Part of HB317 allows families to get a special license plate to indicate a person has autism spectrum disorder. The law also requires police departments to implement a training course for officers.
“I hope that this bill will support our police so that when we do call them in our darkest moments, they will have the resources they need to help us the way our children and family members need to be helped. It means that when they come, when they arrive on the scene, they will have the information. They won’t come and treat our children or family members with the same tactics they use as a criminal. They’ll come prepared to treat them with the mental disorders they’re there to help,” Bourgeois said.
“It means that they’re respected and treated like patients, which they are. It also means our police force has the support from us, the community, that they need from us to be equipped to these sorts of situations. To show up and know, have the information voluntarily and readily available to them, so that they know that they’re not dealing with criminal,” Molina said.
HB317 goes into effect Aug. 1.
By: Christina Watkins