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Scutari/Whelan Bill Requiring Amber Alerts Be Disseminated On Publicly-Provided Cell Phones Signed By Governor

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union) and Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) to ensure that alerts are more widely disseminated when a child has been abducted has been signed into law by Governor Chris Christie.

The law (A-2781/S-1431) requires Amber Alerts be distributed via text message to public officers and employees issued cellular phones or electronic communication devices by their employer.

“Discovering that a child has gone missing is, by any measure, a parent’s worst nightmare. But the more people who are made aware that an abduction has occurred, the better a chance we have of finding the perpetrator and getting the child safely back home,” said Senator Scutari. “This law will allow us to disseminate Amber Alerts to a network of public workers almost instantly, thereby, increasing the likelihood of a child rescue.”

Specifically, the law will require the employee to enroll in the national Wireless Amber Alerts Initiative, which is a voluntary partnership among the wireless industry, the United States Department of Justice, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to distribute Amber Alert text messages to wireless subscribers who register.

The law requires employees with work-issued cell phones – such as certain Division of Youth and Family Services and Department of Transportation employees working in the field – at a minimum, to enroll to receive Amber Alert text messages in the zip code that corresponds to the municipalities where they live and work.

“Distributing information to the public as soon as an abduction is reported is critical to ensuring that law enforcement officials have the best possible chance of finding and returning a child safely home,” said Senator Whelan. “With this law, we will ensure that this crucial information is disseminated more widely across the state, which will, hopefully, result in more lives being saved.”

The requirement would apply only if the wireless provider participates in the national Wireless Amber Alerts Initiative, and if the phone is capable of receiving text messages, and subscribed to a plan that allows text messages.

The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate in May by a vote of 40-0. The Assembly passed it Monday by a 73-0-1 vote. The law takes effect immediately.

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