Nobody was surprised Sunday when a news conference in St. Paul by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., highlighting a bill aimed at helping people with Alzheimer’s or autism culminated in questions about a replacement for her colleague, Sen. Al Franken.
Franken, D-Minn., said last week that he would resign after allegations of inappropriate conduct with women before his time in the Senate. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will appoint a successor who could be a viable contender in the 2018 elections.
“The governor has made it clear it’s his decision,” Klobuchar said when asked if she had any input in the decision. Dayton said he will decide “in the next few days,” she said.
It is important to have two senators, she said, citing the six months she was the lone senator from Minnesota during the recounts and lawsuit in connection with the Franken-Norm Coleman election in 2008-2009.
There is major legislation that needs to be worked on regarding taxes, budgets and the farm bill “that would greatly help our state,” Klobuchar said. The children’s health care bill alone, she said, could almost erase the state’s budget deficit.
Asked about the appointment of a woman or a woman of color, Klobuchar said, “I think it’s really important that the person is qualified to do the work.” While there is a need for more female senators, “There are plenty of men and women who could fill the seat again.
“People should wait and see,” she said.
First, though, Klobuchar stood with advocates for those with children on the autism spectrum and adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to talk about passing $2 million of funding for “Kevin and Avonte’s Law.”
The bipartisan bill would support training for caregivers to prevent and respond to instances of wandering and expand resources for law enforcement and first responders to locate vulnerable people who wander or go missing.
The bill, introduced in 2016, would extend an existing program and double its funding to provide training and pay for technology such as GPS or FM-transmitter bracelets for people who can’t afford them.
The bill passed the Judiciary Committee last month and is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. A companion bill has been introduced in the House.
Six-year-old Hamza Elmi, a nonverbal boy on the autism spectrum, disappeared on his pink scooter from his home in St. Cloud on July 24, 2015. His body was found on the shore of the Mississippi River the next morning.
If the law had existed then, Hamza’s death might have been prevented, said his sister, Fadumo Hassan, and father, Abdilahi Hassan.
Klobuchar, along with Rachel Gardner, director of the Fraser Autism Center for Excellence, said half of all children and youth on the spectrum wander at some point.
Sue Spalding, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota chapter, said 92,000 Minnesota adults are living with Alzheimer’s. Sixty percent of those with Alzheimer’s will wander at some point. That puts an enormous emotional strain on families, she said.
A person with dementia or autism also may not respond to commands such as “stop” or “wait,” she said.
St. Paul police officer Rob Zink also has two boys on the autism spectrum and knows a parent’s fear when a quick trip to the restroom turns into a missing child. Zink is creator of the Cops Autism Response Education (CARE) program.
Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen said his office has had Project Lifesaver for eight years. Twelve to 15 clients use FM-transmitter bracelets to help authorities find them if they wander off. Deputies check in with the clients monthly; so far there have been no incidents, the sheriff said.