Iowa Silver Alert bill leads to changes, frustration

Endangered Persons Advisory, similar but not well known, lawmaker says

Mike Wiser
Published: March 20 2014 | 5:57 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:56 am in

DES MOINES – The case of a missing northwestern Iowa man promises to change the way the law enforcement handles missing-person cases involving people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

It’s a step in the right direction, said Joel Robinson, whose 84-year-old grandfather, Dale, has been missing since Aug. 3.

Robinson originally wanted a change in the law requiring the state to adopt a so-called Silver Alert program for seniors, similar to the Amber Alert system for missing children.

A bill making that change unanimously passed out of the Iowa Senate, but it was killed in the House Transportation Committee last week.

Then, Rep. Chuck Soderberg, R-Le Mars, met Monday with Robinson, Iowa Department of Public Safety Director Larry Noble and officials from the Department of Transportation to see what could be done short of passing legislation. Joel lives in Soderberg’s House district.

The state already has a system – the Endangered Persons Advisory – that works like the proposed Silver Alert, but it’s voluntary and, Soderberg said, not well known.

“They’ve agreed to change their checklist so when something like this happens, it’s more likely it will get sent out,” Soderberg said. “We’ve also set it up now so someone can call either their local law enforcement agency or call straight to the state to make a report. Under the old system, you would have to make a report to local law enforcement and they would call the state.”

There’s also going to be some money put in the department’s budget to create an education awareness campaign about the statewide service, said Soderberg, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Still, there’s nothing that requires local or state law enforcement to activate a statewide alert. That led Sen. Bill Anderson, R-Pierson, who had authored the Silver Alert bill, to fire off a news release Tuesday. Joel also lives in Anderson’s Senate district.

“I am frustrated and disappointed the Silver Alert proposal did not pass out of committee in the House,” Anderson said in his release. “The bill received unanimous bipartisan support in the Senate, and I never imagined it would meet this fate in the House, especially after fellow lawmakers listened to a constituent share their family tragedy.”

Enter Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which is where bill died.

Asked why the bill was never called up and then shown a copy of the Anderson’s news release, Byrnes shook his head, saying, “Good leadership follows legislation from start to finish,” adding that Anderson never approached him about the bill, so he was unaware it was such a high priority.

“It is unfortunate that Sen. Anderson chose to complain and blame fellow legislators rather than sit down and work towards a solution like Rep. Soderberg did,” Byrnes said in a follow-up email. “Sen. Anderson's comments to the media sound more like re-election rhetoric than true leadership on finding solutions.”

Byrnes added that department officials preferred not having the mandate of a new law imposed.

“I don’t know how this became personal,” Anderson said in response.

Joel, meanwhile, says he’s appreciative of Anderson’s efforts involving the bill and Soderberg’s efforts to set up the meeting.

“I would like to see them evaluate this way for a year and see if it’s making a difference,” he said. “I just hope no family has to go through what we’ve been.”

Dale Robinson was last seen driving a maroon truck when he disappeared about 7 ½ months ago.

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