WASHINGTON – Now that he has his daughter back, the father of Elizabeth Smart has called on Congress to pass the national Amber Alert bill, which would create a nationwide communications alert when children are abducted.
Reeling from the safe return of his daughter nine months after her disappearance from her bedroom, Ed Smart told reporters Thursday that passage of the bill "can't wait one more day."
Smart told Wisconsin voters to call House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and urge him to remove the proposal from a larger piece of legislation and pass it immediately.
Congress can't risk the lives of children one more day, Smart said, urging House leaders to overrule Sensenbrenner if he chooses to keep the measure in a larger package.
But Smart's pleas aside, Sensenbrenner said the proposal should remain part of the larger bill moving through the House because it will ensure stronger penalties on kidnappers and raise funding for child abuse and abduction prevention. The bill is expected to reach the House floor by the end of the month.
"This legislation is at the top of our committee agenda and I expect the House again to overwhelmingly pass it in the very near future," Sensenbrenner said in a written statement.
"The Bush administration has already taken steps to implement the Amber Alert nationwide. Attorney General Ashcroft has designated a national Amber Alert coordinator at the Justice Department to help create a nationwide Amber alert system," Sensenbrenner said, adding that the department is working on 87 Amber Alert programs, 38 of them statewide.
The bill already unanimously passed the Senate in January. The $25 million measure would establish a national coordinator at the Justice Department to expand the network of Amber Alert systems currently in use in various states. It would also establish a grant program to pay for electronic message boards, training and education for states on how and when to use the alert system.
Sponsors of the Senate bill said Thursday that Sensenbrenner shouldn't waste any more time.
"When a child is abducted next week, we want to have the very best communications system to help get that child within the first 24 hours," said Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
"This is probably one of the few pieces of legislation that we actually pass that really directly results in lives being saved," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
House officials speaking on condition of anonymity said some GOP leaders side with Smart on the need for quick action. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who is co-sponsoring the freestanding legislation, said that such senior Republicans as Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, were standing with Sensenbrenner.
Amber Alerts are named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted in Arlington, Texas, and later found murdered. Bulletins are distributed quickly through radio and television broadcasts and electronic highway signs about kidnapped children and their abductors.
Fox News' Jim Mills and The Associated Press contributed to this report.