A bill that would assist police officers to better identify individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing passed the Senate in a unanimous vote earlier this week and is headed to the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 189 would allow deaf individuals to voluntarily indicate their status in the Kentucky vehicle registration system. Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Virginia L. Moore says they partnered with state law enforcement agencies to draft the bill after a fatal altercation in Louisville involving a deaf man who may not have understood officers' commands.
“We knew we needed to do something about that. This is something that would help the officers. What that bill will do is allow us to be a trustee to raise funds to be able to change the database that is currently with the DMV in order for officers to be able to do that,” said Moore.
KCDHH is an agency under the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and drafted the bill as a part of a three-pronged approach. The second portion involves working with the Commissioner of Justice to develop nationwide training modules for officers pertaining to deaf individuals. The third includes working directly with the deaf and hard of hearing.
“A lot of deaf and hard of hearing individuals don’t know what to do when they’re approached by an officer. Some of them will reach over into their purse to grab paper and pen because that’s what they’re used to doing but that’s a safety risk for them and the officer,” said Moore.
Such efforts were underway at an event this week in Paducah. Zion Cumberland Presbyterian and Community Fellowship Baptist Church Deaf Ministry hosted Paducah Police Resource Officer Gretchen Morgan. She says the meeting was a way connect with the deaf community and help them understand police interactions.
“It’s important that we reach out to our deaf and hard of hearing community just to make sure they understand the different things that police officers will ask for whether it's a traffic stop or we’re investigating a crime,” said Morgan.
Morgan said people who are deaf or hard of hearing should make officers immediately aware. The Kentucky Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing says more than 600,000 individuals are affected by deafness or hearing loss in the state. That number is expected to rise as baby boomers age and veterans return home.
Bill sponsors are Tom Buford, Rick Girdler, Gerald Neal, Brandon Smith, and Johnny Turner. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has championed the legislation on social media. She said it will affect 700,000 deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
SENATE BILL 189:
At the time of application for registration or renewal, owner may inform county clerk they or someone who may be operating the vehicle is deaf or hard of hearing and request that information in the vehicle registration database to assist an officer in identifying the individual.
A dear or hard of hearing trust fund to reimburse Transportation Cabinet for cost of including information into the database. Support ‘other actions’ related to safety and welfare, and educate the public.