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Sensenbrenner Discusses AMBER Alert Legislation

Aired March 13, 2003 - 15:39   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll take you live right now to Capitol Hill. This is Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin talking about the Amber Alert and efforts to make it nationwide. Let's listen in.
REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: This is legislation that passed the House of Representatives in the last Congress by a vote of 324 -- excuse me, 390 to 24. And it closes the loop. Amber Alert will alert the news media and law enforcement to the fact that an abduction has occurred. However, the other provisions of this bill will allow the criminal justice system to deal with the abductors in a much more severe manner, thus protecting children from recidivism and further exploitation.

Relative to abductions, the Child Abduction Prevention Act eliminates the statute of limitations for child abductions and sex crimes. No statute of limitations anymore. It denies pre-trial release for people who are accused of child rape or child abduction. They won't be out of jail pending trial.

It mandates a 20-year prison sentence minimum for the kidnapping of a person under the age of 18 by a non-family member. And it deals with the area of international kidnapping, which has become a matter of increasing concern.

Now, relative to the Amber Alert legislation, what is being done now by the Justice Department is what is being proposed in the Senate- passed Amber Alert legislation. Or, put another way if the Senate- passed Amber Alert legislation is passed now and signed in 10 minutes by the president, there will be no change in what the Justice Department is doing.

The legislation calls for the appointment of a coordinator in the Justice Department. That has been done pursuant to an executive order of President Bush. It calls for money to establish a nationwide grant program for Amber alerts. That is being done now, and there is $12.5 million in the Justice Department ready to be disbursed to the states.

Currently, 38 states have Amber Alert programs. There are 49 additional jurisdictions that have Amber Alert programs that are up and running. There are some who have called for a mandatory nationwide Amber Alert system. That is not what the Senate-passed bill or the Frost (ph) stand-alone bill calls for.

The committee will make a determination on whether the current system of allowing states to apply for grant money, or if they choose not to, not to apply for grant money, is the proper way to go, or whether the federal government should mandate that all the states have an Amber Alert system not proposed in the Hutchison bill, but one of the things that the committee process will have to work out.

Now I am not prepared to let go the improvements in the law relative to child abductions. I am not prepared to let go of the doubling of the money available for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is the clearinghouse for families who have been victimized or exploited by people who wish to commit crimes against children. For the protection of our children, we need to pass these provisions, as well as a properly drafted Amber Alert. And it is better to do it right the first time, rather than doing something that is not what people anticipate as happening.

At this time, I would like to call on Mr. Robbie Callaway, who is the chairman of the board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- Mr. Calloway.

ROBBIE CALLAWAY, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN: First, let me start out by saying it's a joyous day. Everybody knows it. I am the chairman of the board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Twenty years ago I walked the halls of Congress with John Walsh, when he lost his son, and they found his son murdered. And he came up here, and there was some reason to be angry on Capitol Hill 20 years ago, because some people wouldn't listen. They wouldn't hear.

Today's a joyous day because Elizabeth Smart was found alive. I know the Smart family. I happen to feel very bad this morning, though, when Ed Smart chose to direct his anger to Capitol Hill. It's not where the problem is. And if you're watching, Ed, you know me, the problem is not here.

The folks behind me, and many others, Democrats, Republicans, are doing all they can do to try to have an Amber Alert around the country. But to try to do more, to try to lock up people, pedophiles -- the system failed Ed Smart. Make no mistake that the system did fail Ed Smart. And I think Ed Smart and the Smart family is going to understand that he's angry this morning, and I wish I could have gotten him on the phone before I came here to tell him that this is not the problem.

Ed, you're going to look and you're going to see where the system failed you, and it did fail you. Some of the things that the congressmen and these others are trying to address in this bill will address the problems that were there.

I don't have a prepared statement. I wasn't planning on doing this. I just felt this morning when I watched it on television and saw Ed Smart, who I know is hurting -- he never gave up hope, by the way. He nerve gave up hope ever.

I was with him at the White House Conference on missing and exploited children with President Bush. Ed Smart knew he was going to find his daughter. God bless you, Ed. We share in your joy, but the problem is not here at Capitol Hill.

SENSENBRENNER: Thank you, Mr. Callaway. I'd now like to call on Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn of Washington state, who is an author of the Amber Alert bill -- Jennifer.

REP. JENNIFER DUNN (R), WASHINGTON: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. And it's so nice to have you with us. We've done a lot of press conferences together. Amber Alert is vitally important. What happened is a little girl came home, and we have proof that a system that energizes people, that gets information out, that shows faces of potential kidnappers, that perhaps projects license plate numbers or descriptions of cars, certainly of the victim, can work in the final game.

We have saved 47 children through Amber Alert. Amber Alert is a voluntary program right now. There are 38 states that currently have programs. And we'd like to see all the states have programs.

And the Amber Alert provision that I am co-authoring provides for this. It isn't mandatory. It's true. But Ed Smart, I'll tell you, ladies and gentlemen, he has been a wonderful advocate for Amber Alert.

Through all these months since we first met in September, when we came together to write this bill, Ed has been back in D.C. a number of times. Even though he felt his child was at least temporarily lost to him, he wanted to advocate on behalf of other children who were kidnapped.

We need to be doing this. We need to pass Amber Alert now. The chairman has told you that Amber is currently a part of a larger bill in the House of Representatives. That is true. In today's press conference, you're going to have a chance to listen to several folks who have put lots of thought into different ways to protect children.

Now, I don't care how we get Amber passed. I want to get it passed, because I think it's going to be there to contribute valuable help as we bring these children back to the arms of their parents. There is no more important thing that we can do in Congress if it's not help parents retrieve their lost children.

Amber Alert will do that. We're all intent on making this happen. We have, as a result of the increased public support through Elizabeth's coming home yesterday, gained a lot of credibility on this very quickly. And, as a result, we're accelerating our schedule on this bill.

You'll hear more of that from the chairman. But you've got a group of folks who know exactly what they're talking about. They're going to expand on some of the other provisions we have right now with Amber.

And Ed Smart, take heart. We're thinking of you, we're sending you our love. We're sending you our feelings thankfulness that Elizabeth has come home. We wish that she is well. We're so glad that she's home in your arms. And everything we can do will be in your best interest. And you're doing a great job of supporting Amber. And the folks that you're going to be hearing from right now are going to tell you what else is in this legislation.

SENSENBRENNER: Thank you, Jennifer. Now, I'd like to recognize Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who will talk about his hopes of bringing this bill up on the floor next week after committee action.

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Before I talk about the schedule, I really want to make a statement about what's going on here. Every American is glad to see Elizabeth Smart back home where she belongs with her mother and her father and the rest of her family. But we want to see the same joyful reunion for every parent in this country that has a missing child.

We're committed to putting into place all of the law enforcement tools, like Amber Alert, that help organize the most effective response effort. When a child is missing, we must be certain that the full weight of the available resources within the community are brought to bear on finding the missing child and bringing him or her home safely. And there's an important point that needs to be made here.

We can and we should do more than coordinate rescue efforts. We must work to stop these incidents before they happen. And to that end, we offer a very robust package of child abuse prevention tools that makes severe child abuse and torture capital crimes, that throws the book at child kidnappers, that puts a two strikes and you're out law in place, keeps child kidnappers behind bars until trial.

It helps catch child exploiters with wiretaps. It cracks down on sexual trafficking with children. It drops time limits on prosecutions of child kidnappers and pedophiles. And it punishes perverts for taking part in sex tourism.

By throwing the book at vile child exploiters, the Child Abduction Prevention Act will go a long way toward bringing safety and security to every child. And let me just say that, in working with Chairman Sensenbrenner and the leadership, and the members that are standing here, we have accelerated this -- the schedule for this bill. I point out to you that the subcommittee that reported this out -- reported out on Wednesday -- and it was on its way to the full committee, and was going to be marked up next week and be on the floor the following week, even before people started holding press conferences and calling for the bill to be put on the floor.

I just asked some of these people, where were they when this bill was sitting in the Senate in the last Congress, with over 400 votes of the House in support of it, and they chose not to bring it up in the Senate in the last Congress. So you know there's a little egg on their face, and I think there's a little politics being played here. We will get this bill on the floor with cooperation of the minority as soon as possible, and hopefully next week.

SENSENBRENNER: Thank you, Tom. KAGAN: We've been listening in to Capitol Hill. It seems like there's a lot of agreement and some politics being played as well. A lot of agreement for a national Amber Alert, but how do you pass that and which bill goes through? One bill went through the Senate. It looks like the House Judiciary Chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner, pushing another type of bill that he says is stronger and has even more teeth.

This all coming up in these news conferences impromptu after Ed Smart, Elizabeth Smart's father, calling specifically on Jim Sensenbrenner to get a national Amber Alert passed and on the floor of the House. It looks like, according to Tom DeLay, the full House will be voting on that by next week.


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