WASHINGTON – The Senate unanimously urged the House on Tuesday to support its effort to create a nationwide Amber Alert system to help find missing children after watching the bill get bogged down last year.
Amber Alerts are named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted in Arlington, Texas, and later found murdered. They are bulletins distributed quickly through radio and television broadcasts and electronic highway signs about kidnapped children and their abductors.
The legislation passed by the Senate 92-0 would spend $25 million to create a national Amber network and provide matching grants to states and communities for equipment and training.
"This bill helps fill the gaps that exist in the current patchwork of Amber systems," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "It also provides much-needed resources for states and communities to build their own systems and spread vital information to surrounding jurisdictions with a single phone call. This is vital if an abducted child is taken across state lines. The first few hours are critical to a child's safe recovery, so Congress should grant law enforcement every available tool."
The Justice Department, which requested an additional $2.5 million in the budget year starting Oct. 31 to help train law enforcement officers on use of the Amber Alert system, says at least 33 states already have their own versions.
They are credited with the rescues of at least 34 children since 1996, the department says.
"Amber Alerts systems are critical to successful search and recovery systems because they enable law enforcement authorities to galvanize entire communities to assist in the safe recovery of child victims," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, "Amber Alerts work, and this bill gives a green light to expand Amber Alerts nationwide. Our nation's children, parents and grandparents deserve our help to stop the disturbing trend of child abductions."
The House and the Senate passed versions of the bill last year but were unable to agree on the specifics before leaving for the year. House members tacked several other measures onto the Senate bill last year in hopes that the popular measure would carry them through.
"I hope we can pass this bill and give the House plenty of time to consider the bill and give it to the president," Hutchison said.
A similar measure is expected to be introduced in the House next week, said a spokesman for Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas.