Purple Alert bill lands on Gov. DeSantis’ desk

The alerts protect people with cognitive disabilities.

A bill that would create an alert system to help locate missing individuals with cognitive disabilities landed Monday on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Sponsored by Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman, the bill (SB 184) would establish a Purple Alert system under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

The Purple Alert system would dispatch alerts for a missing adult who is in danger and has a mental or cognitive disability, a brain injury or another physical, mental or emotional disability.

The bill passed nearly unanimously in both chambers.

“We worked hard for three years to tailor this bill in an effort to ensure its passage. I worked closely with many stakeholders in this process and could not be happier to see it cross the finish line and become law,” Berman said in a statement.

Wandering can be a danger to a person with limited cognitive abilities, according to an analysis of the bill. About 12% to 60% of individuals with a cognitive disability wander, and about 5% of wandering instances result in physical harm.

When a Purple Alert is issued, local law enforcement agencies would broadcast information to the media and subscribers in the area where a missing adult is believed to be located.

The alert can be broadcast on lottery terminals in locations like supermarkets, convenience stores, and gas stations.

If a missing person case is opened along with the Purple Alert, message signs on state highways would be activated.

A person with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia disorder would not qualify under the Purple Alert, but likely would qualify under the existing Silver Alert structure. A person in danger from substance abuse, meanwhile, would also not be covered under Purple Alert.

Notably,  groups such as AARPDisability Rights Florida and the Florida Developmental Disability Council backed the bill throughout the 2021 Legislative Session.

The state already has a Silver Alert, which is for older people or people with deteriorating intellectual faculties.

Democratic Rep. Joe Casello sponsored similar legislation in the House.

Casello said the bill was inspired by Joshua Marshall, who wandered off from his family home.

He was unable to speak or ask for help because of cognitive disabilities. His body was later found in a retention pond.

“After hearing the story of Joshua Marshall, getting this legislation passed became one of my priorities in the Florida House,” Casello said in a statement. “With the Governor’s signature, the Purple Alert will be established in Florida saving potentially hundreds of lives in the process. Those with intellectual disabilities are some of the most vulnerable in our community and this is a step in the right direction to keep them safe.”

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


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