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Bill looks to create a statewide alert system for missing and endangered persons

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Posted at 3:57 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 17:57:11-04

BOISE, Idaho — New legislation prompted by the disappearance of the missing 5-year-old Fruitland boy, Michael Vaughan, is sailing through the statehouse as lawmakers get closer to wrapping up the session.

Michael or as many know him as “Monkey” went missing in July of last year, but no Amber Alert was ever activated by authorities because his situation did not meet all of the criteria. Pending legislation from Idaho lawmakers is working to create an alert system for potential similar cases in the future.

“July 27th, 2021. In my hometown of Fruitland, we have a little boy who is missing. He is five years old. It shook our community and I think it shook our state,” Sen. Abby Lee said on the Senate floor.

Now, 8 months later, Michael Vaughan is still missing. So the question for lawmakers became, what should we do if you cant do an Amber Alert? Idaho lawmakers began drafting up the legislation to create a statewide alert system for any endangered missing person.

According to the bill, “the Endangered and Missing Person Alert (EMPA) is designed to locate any endangered or missing person regardless of age. EMPA will create a unified approach by Idaho Law Enforcement on how to handle these types of cases and set alert standards and criteria for utilizing the state and national notification systems.”

“Idaho is one of the only states that doesn’t have a statewide system and we don’t have a system that will allow us to communicate with other states around us,” Lee said.

“When Monkey went missing... Oregon is five minutes away. We couldn’t even communicate with Oregon,” Co-sponsor Rep. Ryan Kerby said. “But if we have this plan, the alert coordinator says, ‘ok this kid qualifies.’ The alert coordinator will quickly contact the Oregon alert coordinator and they will work together and Oregon will say ‘ok lets go to Malheur County’ which is right on the border.”

It takes a one-time start-up of about $1.3 million but could benefit all groups who face missing persons according to Lee and Kerby.

“Sex trafficking, dementia and Alzheimer's people. You have young people. The tribes, and all of the indigenous folks. Every group wants to do some kind of a central approach to this thing,” Kerby said.

Related: Fruitland Police asking for help identifying several people in the search for Michael Vaughan

According to the bill, the EMPA will limit the number of alerts to minimize confusion for the public and simplify the alerting process for police.

“Especially as we look at our tribal partners, this is going to improve communication between the federal government, our tribal police, our state police and our sheriff's department. I think it really is for the first time putting in statute our policy that we care about the alerts going out in our communities,” Lee said.

On Monday, SB1378 passed unanimously through the House Judiciary Committee with a “do-pass” recommendation. To learn more about the legislation, click here.