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As the State Legislature’s biennial session gets underway this week, Jefferson County’s two legislators are set to advance a handful of bills, including a proposal to allow children of military families to enroll in school before establishing residency, and another that would add a designation to a driver’s license designed to inform law enforcement of those with communication issues such as autism

Sen. Edith “Edie” McClafferty (D-SD 38) plans to introduce legislation that would add the designation to an individual’s driver’s license, in response to a request from a Jefferson City resident. 

It is a way to make law enforcement more aware and prevent unnecessary escalation, said McClafferty. 

Jefferson City resident Shawn Lar had made the request for a license designation. 

Lars’ son has autism, and while he hasn’t yet been pulled over after 11 years on the road, Lars is concerned that with his limited communication skills, officers may suspect him of hiding something and the situation could escalate. 

“As parents, we want him to be as independent as possible, but having him drive on his own is one area that we have decided to be on the protective side for this reason,” said Lar, adding that those with autism can be sensitive to loud noises, bright

lights and being touched, such as sirens and loud vocal commands. 

Those with autism could become anxious, stimulated and experience what is known as “sensory overload” and cause them to behave in ways that officers may find strange or threatening, said Lar. 

“This law will make things better manageable for anyone with communication issues (autism, deafness, hearing loss) to communicate properly if the officer knows the driver has a communication issue,” said Lar, and referenced a similar designation that was passed into law last year in Michigan. 

Signing up for the designation in Michigan is voluntary. 

Jefferson County Sheriff Craig Doolittle said that it would be good to know this information in advance. So far, he’s not aware of his deputies having any issues with this sort of situation recently or in the past. 

Doolittle said his deputies attend Crisis Intervention Team training, which is a 40-hour course aimed at training them to deal with those with mental illnesses and other issues. 

Newly-elected Representative Marta Bertoglio (R-HD 75) has submitted a revision, House Bill 68, to existing legislation,  that would allow children of military families, relocating to Montana on military orders, to enroll in classes prior to establishing residency. The revision also calls for allowing the family to apply for programs offered by the school district prior to arrival and establishing residency. 

The revision was made at the request of the Education Interim Committee. 

Efforts to reach Bertoglio concerning the bill were unsuccessful by press time. 

McClafferty said she plans to continue pushing for improvement and expansion of the state’s early childhood education and preschool system. 

She also wants the state to take a closer look at broadband access, particularly in rural communities. 

This is an issue that has become front and center as a result of the pandemic, both for schools and businesses, said McClafferty. 

However, it may have to begin with a study looking at what exactly is needed, particularly in rural communities, she said.

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