Local legislators say a bill calling for the establishment of a new missing child alert system, prompted by the tragic, high-profile murder last year of 8-year-old Hiawayi Robinson, is likely to pass through the Alabama House of Representatives this week.
Last month, the Alabama Senate passed the Hiawayi Robinson Emergency Missing Child Alert System Act, which would create the Emergency Missing Child Alert System “to expedite notice to the public regarding missing and endangered children.”
The bill requires the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to implement the program, mandates participation by local law enforcement agencies and provides rulemaking authority and procedures for the activation and deactivation of an alert.
Proponents claim the bill would allow authorities to issue a public notice of missing and endangered children ahead of an Amber Alert. Authorities did not call an Amber Alert when Robinson went missing Sept. 16 because her case did not meet all the criteria.
After Robinson’s body was discovered two days later near Turner and Rebel roads in Prichard, Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam told media Department of Justice regulations under the Amber Alert program states sufficient information related to the abductor and/or vehicles used in the abduction must be present for an Amber Alert to be issued.
“In the case of Hiawayi, we did not have that information,” he said. “We did perform the best management practice that was called upon.”
While no Amber Alert was called, Ephriam said a missing persons bulletin was issued, which allowed all members of law enforcement to establish the necessary levels of protocol in the context as if an Amber Alert had been called.
“We are very confident that every means of resource, every means of law enforcement and every means of community support that was required under the missing persons alert was, in fact, enacted to the greatest extent to the benefit of trying to identify and bring this blessed child home,” he said Sept. 18.
However, State Sen. Vivian Davis-Figures (D-Mobile), who proposed the bill after playing an active role in the case once Robinson was reported missing, said there needs to be another system in place that could send out alerts as soon as children are reported missing.
“While we could not give out an Amber Alert on her when she was missing, now a child would be reported missing as soon as all of the people who are accountable and responsible for that child can confirm that that child is, in fact missing,” she said. “An alert can go out after that, and that means it wouldn’t have to be a situation where that child was abducted, so this is going to mean a lot for children and parents in the state.”
According to the bill, once a determination has been made to activate an emergency missing child alert, local law enforcement agencies must immediately request the ALEA to issue an emergency missing child alert by providing all pertinent information regarding the missing child to the agency. Law enforcement would then supplement the information with descriptions and photographs for dissemination to the media, to the public through any means available, including the Internet, and by posting the missing child’s photograph on the agency’s website, if available.
To cancel an alert under the new system, local law enforcement would request the ALEA to deactivate the emergency missing child alert once the child is found or the case is closed.
Critics of the bill believe the new Emergency Missing Child Alert System could cause a saturation of alerts and a greater potential for false alarms, but Figures maintains a new system is necessary for the safety of children.
“For me, a child’s life is more important than us saying ‘too many alerts,’ and if it gets to be an abused situation then we can go back and look at it and see what we need to change, but we definitely need to put this in place to make sure that our children are protected,” she said.
In addition to passing in the Senate, the bill has also passed the House Committee on Homeland Security, Figures said. Further, she said all 32 senators present on the first day of the session voted in favor of the bill — full bipartisan support.
“All of the senators are co-sponsors,” Figures said. “ … People in the legislature know my heart for children, so they know this is a good bill.”
Figures said she hopes the bill will come up for a vote in House of Representatives April 2 and is confident the bill will be passed, signed by Gov. Robert Bentley and ultimately enacted into law.
State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Mobile), who alongside Figures played an active role during the search for Robinson, echoed her sentiments by telling Lagniappe he is confident the bill will pass on Thursday.
“I cannot tell you how emotional it’s been,” Figures concluded. “… It means a lot to me because it will mean that her death will not be in vain, that her death will actually serve to help save so many other children in the future.”