TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg known as “Patricia’s Law,” which would work to help law enforcement personnel locate and safely return missing persons to their families was unanimously approved today by the Senate Law & Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The legislation is named for Patricia Viola, a Bogota woman who disappeared from her kitchen in 2001. The case is considered high risk because Patricia takes medication to control her epilepsy. Patricia’s husband, Jim Viola, was present at today’s meeting, and he testified before the committee.
“I am in favor of ‘Patricia’s Law’ which is named after my wife, because I am hoping it will enhance missing persons reporting. I hope that the legislation would work to improve communication within families, to improve death scene investigations and, most importantly, to give priority to missing people who are high risk,” said Jim Viola.
“This legislation is about providing hope when a family member goes missing,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Hope is what helps keep families like the Violas going. Mr. Viola has been a tireless advocate for this legislation because he knows firsthand how it feels to lose a loved one; to not know whether or not they’re even ok. I believe that we owe it to families like the Violas to do everything we can to help them safely locate their missing family members in a timely, organized manner.”
Senator Weinberg’s bill, S-2255, would outline the best practices and protocols law enforcement should follow when handling missing person cases, identifying human remains and in providing timely information to the families on the status of investigations. The bill would also recognize some of the new technologies such as DNA testing which can help find or identify missing persons.
In high risk cases, law enforcement would be required to enter a missing persons report in to the National Crime Information Center database within two hours of the initial filing. All other missing persons cases would be investigated within 24 hours of their initial filing.
The proposed legislation reflects model missing persons legislation proposed by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, a federally funded resource center created to support research, legislation and program development for criminal justice.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson, D-Englewood and Teaneck have sponsored identical legislation in the Assembly.
This bill now heads to the full Senate for approval.