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Bill would expand “invisible disability” training to firefighters

Some of the disorders that fall under the sensory issues or invisible disabilities include stroke, diabetes, autism spectrum disorder and dementia.

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Freshman State Rep. Leigh Hulsey, R-Helena, carried through bipartisan legislation in her first session mandating training for law enforcement officers on interactions for people with special sensory needs.

Now Hulsey plans to take the next step on the idea with a bill to expand that training to firefighters.

“It’s not uncommon at the scene of a wreck or fire that firefighters arrive on the scene before law enforcement does,” Hulsey said. “It’s in the best interest of those who serve and those being served that we extend this work that we started.”

While there is still work being done on the bill, Hulsey said it is basically the same as the bill that passed last year other than the shift in focus from law enforcement to firefighters.

Hulsey said the bill would apply to certified volunteer firefighters as well as professional firefighters. The one exception will be the Alabama Forestry Commission, as Hulsey said they are usually dealing with wildfires and not citizens.

The Noah Cade Act, which just went into effect Jan. 1, requires law enforcement officers to take one hour of continuing education on how to interact with individuals with sensory issues or invisible disabilities every other year. The class will be administrated by the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission and the class must be provided by a nonprofit that specializes in such training, at no cost.

The bill is personal to Hulsey, whose son Noah is on the autism spectrum.

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Hulsey brought similar legislation when she served on the Helena City Council and said that has been a vehicle for change.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the law is necessary in part because Alabama under then-governor Robert Bentley shut down mental health institutions and now people from suffering mental health crises are often left to deal with law enforcement, and prison or jail is the only institution that can house them.

Some of the disorders that fall under the sensory issues or invisible disabilities include stroke, diabetes, autism spectrum disorder and dementia, as well as other neurological disorders. 

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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