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House passes bill setting up national alert system for missing adults

House passes bill setting up national alert system for missing adults
Posted at 10:01 PM, Sep 25, 2018

A bill that would create a national emergency network for missing adults passed the House in a voice vote Tuesday night.

The legislation would allow for the development of an "Ashanti Alert," which would notify the public of a missing adult if the individual has a proven physical or mental disability, if law enforcement certifies that the person's physical safety might be in danger or if authorities believe their disappearance was involuntary.

The bill is named after Ashanti Billie, who was 19 years old when she went missing from her job on a military base in Virginia on September 18, 2017. Her body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days later. A retired Navy veteran was charged with her abduction and murder.

The new Ashanti Alert will be integrated into the Blue Alert system, which issues public notifications about threats to police officers. If enacted, the Ashanti Alert will notify the public in the same way that an AMBER Alert does, with an emergency alert sent out on broadcasts and cellphones.

"Today's vote on Ashanti's legacy will give law enforcement all across our great nation a new tool to give resources to bear to locate missing adults who may be in danger and will no doubt save lives," Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Taylor, who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday on the House floor before the measure's passage.

In the aftermath of her death, Billie's home state unanimously passed the Ashanti Alert, which was enacted in July and led her family to push for a federal law.

The federal bill passed Tuesday in the House would appropriate $3 million over the next four years to the Justice Department to form the communications network and allow the attorney general to designate a national coordinator.

Taylor told CNN his office is reaching out to Senate offices to "look for a champion" in the Senate who could hotline, or fast track, the bill. He hopes the bill will be on the President's desk for him to sign before the year's end.

Taylor first met Billie's family exactly a year ago when they sought his help in finding their daughter. They were in the House Gallery Tuesday night when the bill passed.

"It was very emotional. After it passed, I looked up at them in the gallery and I gave a thumbs up," Taylor told CNN.

Billie was too old for Virginia law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert and too young for them to issue a Silver Alert, which is a state alert system for elderly 60 or older.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill with Taylor before the bill passed, Ashanti's mother Brandy Billie said that it wasn't until her daughter went missing that they were aware there wasn't an alert in place for adults.

"The Ashanti Alert will fix that void. Unfortunately, it's too late to help our daughter, but we know that the Ashanti Alert, she will continue to help others. Her legacy will live on," Brandy Billie said, adding, "Her life wasn't in vain, it was for a purpose."