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Senate approves free child ID kits

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(The Center Square) – A bill to fund child identification kits in Pennsylvania cleared the Senate on Tuesday.

The two cosponsors behind the legislation – Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, and Scott Martin, R-Strasburg – said their Child Reunification Act saves law enforcement time and offers families peace of mind, though they wish not a single kit would ever be needed.

“We want parents and law enforcement to have every means at their disposal to help in reconnecting these missing children with their parents,” Bartolotta said.

The kits include fingerprinting materials, DNA collection swabs and other information that can be “useful” in an emergency situation. Districts would be required to supply the kits to families of first-graders.

A prior fiscal note estimates the total cost could reach $350,000 – though a legislative source told The Center Square this figure represents the higher end of anticipated expenses.

“The idea of a child going missing is one of the scariest scenarios most families could ever imagine,” Martin said. “When that happens, every second counts. The law enforcement community needs every tool in their arsenal to identify and return a missing child as quickly as possible. That is precisely what this legislation will achieve.”

The effort mimics legislation introduced in Congress last year by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Donald Norcross, D-N.J., to encourage parents and guardians to store identifying information about their children in order to aid investigators if and when an emergency should unfold.

Known across the country as the National Child Identification Program, the initiative has distributed more than 70 million kits across North America – including 10 million last year alone.

The program says more than 800,000 children in the United States go missing each year – one child every 40 seconds, on average.

But critics argue that claims about the kits’ usefulness are dubious at best. A ProPublica investigation of a similar Texas law published earlier this month found that a Waco-based contractor exaggerated data in its efforts to secure contracts across the country to supply the kits.

Jason Thompson, Martin’s spokesman, refuted the criticism in an email to The Center Square on Wednesday.

“Similar kits have been endorsed by law enforcement throughout the country and are regularly distributed by police agencies at National Night Out and other community outreach events throughout the year,” he said. “They wouldn’t invest that kind of time and effort if those kits weren’t worthwhile.”

Fifteen Democrats voted against the measure Tuesday, though The Center Square was unable to confirm their specific objections. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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