- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

The House overwhelmingly passed a broad package of provisions to protect children yesterday, including a nationwide Amber Alert system to immediately publicize kidnappings, a ban on virtual child pornography and stricter punishment for pedophiles.
"When it comes to abduction, murder and rape of children, the United States must have a zero-tolerance policy," said bill sponsor Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
In the Senate, Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he was pleased by the House's action, would review the bill over the weekend, and hopes to work with the House in conference to approve the measure soon.
Some Democrats criticized House Republicans for not allowing a vote on a Senate-passed bill that simply contained the Amber Alert. They say the extra provisions face opposition in the Senate and will consequently slow down enactment of the Amber Alert initiative.
"By playing politics with the Amber Alert, House Republicans are delaying vital assistance to safely recover abducted children," said Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat.
The House bill, which passed 410-14, provides for lifetime supervision of child abductors and sex offenders, mandates life imprisonment for second-time offenders and denies pretrial release to those accused of raping or kidnapping children.
"It is wrong to hijack the Amber Alert bill to try to pass these things," said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat.
Both the Senate and House bills would establish a permanent national Amber Alert coordinator in the Justice Department and provide $25 million in grants for states. Amber Alert helps find abducted children by using local radio, television and road signs to alert motorists and other citizens.
Mr. Sensenbrenner said his broad bill "not only gets the word out after a kidnapping, but it also takes strong steps to prevent them from occurring in the first place."
The House also adopted several more amendments yesterday, including one that would place strict limits on departing from federal-sentencing guidelines and another measure to ban virtual child pornography.
After the House passed its broad bill, members requested a conference with the Senate to meld their bill with a Senate-passed bill that deals with child pornography.
The House and Senate child-pornography language is different, but both attempt to rewrite a 1996 law banning sexual images that appear to be of children but are really computer-generated. The Supreme Court declared parts of that law unconstitutional.
Mr. Sensenbrenner said aides from his and Mr. Hatch's offices have already begun preliminary conference discussions and those will continue through the weekend.
The Amber Alert bill, which passed the Senate in January, became a top priority for the House after abducted teen Elizabeth Smart was recently found and reunited with her family, and her father demanded that Congress quickly pass the bill. The Smarts also wrote a letter to House members this week, urging passage.

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