Child-sex offenders would be subject to stringent monitoring requirements and face new mandatory penalties under a House-passed bill that was expanded to include protections for homosexuals under federal hate crime law.
The House voted 371-52 yesterday in favor of the Children's Safety Act, which, among its many provisions, creates a national Web site for child-sex offenders and stipulates that sex felons face up to 20 years in prison for failing to comply with registration requirements.
Unexpectedly, the House voted 223-199 in favor of an amendment by Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, that expands current hate crime law to include some crimes involving sexual orientation, sex and disability. Under current law, the federal government assists local and state authorities prosecuting limited types of crimes based on the victim's race, religion or ethnic background.
The House has been the chief obstacle in numerous previous attempts to expand hate crimes law, and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest homosexual rights group, said it was an "incredibly historic vote" that could give momentum to similar action in the Senate.
The sex-offender bill, which also requires felony offenders to register for life and authorizes the death penalty for sex crimes resulting in the killing of a child, responds to what House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, said was a "national crisis" in child-sex offenses.
He said that of about 550,000 convicted sex offenders in the nation, the whereabouts of 100,000 are unknown.
Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, said, "We track library books better than we do sexual predators."
Mr. Sensenbrenner said the legislation would get favorable treatment in the Senate and he expected it to be signed into law by the end of the year.
The White House, in a statement, expressed support, saying that even though sex crimes against children have declined significantly in recent years, more needs to be done. It noted that the legislation codified the online National Sex Offender Public Registry that the Justice Department started earlier this year.
The legislation brings together parts of numerous proposals to protect children from sex offenders.
Among the many amendments accepted was one by Mr. Sensenbrenner that would help local law officials track down the estimated 15,000 sex offenders who may have relocated as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Another, by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Florida Democrat, provides for the civil confinement of violent sex offenders deemed by a panel of experts as too dangerous to return to society.