WASHINGTON – Compromise legislation to create a national Amber Alert child kidnapping network and strengthen child pornography laws was cleared Tuesday for Congress' final approval.
Republicans were rushing to get a bill to the White House before Congress' Easter break, which begins Friday.
A GOP-dominated conference committee blended House and Senate bills to ensure stricter sentences and impose sterner laws to deal with child kidnappers or child pornographers. Congressional aides worked for more than a week to draft the compromise.
The new bill now must be approved by the House and Senate before it goes to President Bush for his signature.
The Republicans, who rule both houses of Congress, want a bill for Bush to sign before the Easter break.
"I urge my colleagues to protect America's children by supporting this bipartisan, noncontroversial child protection legislation," House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, echoed the sentiment.
"The end result of all of our hard work is a bill that we can all be proud of: One that is tough on criminals, pedophiles and child pornographers in a measured and constitutional way," Hatch said.
Some Democrats seemed unhappy about the final version, which could cause a problem in the Senate where Republicans hold a slim two-vote margin.
The final version of the legislation would authorize creation of a national child kidnapping notification network named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted in Arlington, Texas, and later found murdered.
The legislation would provide matching grants to states and communities for equipment and training for the Amber Alert network, which will distribute information quickly, through radio and television broadcasts and electronic highway signs, about kidnapped children and their abductors.
The family of Elizabeth Smart, reunited with her parents after being taken from her bedroom in a Salt Lake City suburb months ago, repeatedly have appealed for national Amber Alert legislation.
Also in the compromise is language to crack down on child pornography by strengthening bans on depicting minors in obscene material, while dealing with the Supreme Court's constitutional problems with an earlier version.
The legislation is in response to a court ruling last April, which struck down a 1996 law that specifically prohibited virtual child pornography. The court said banning images that merely appear to depict real children engaged in sex was unconstitutionally vague and far-reaching.
The compromise legislation would prohibit the pandering or solicitation of anything represented to be child pornography. Responding to the court ruling, it also requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person intended others to believe the material was obscene child pornography.
Negotiators also decided to make it harder for federal judges to stray from sentencing guidelines when it comes to child abuse crimes. The compromise "would simply require judges to sentence these vicious defendants in accordance with the law, and not seek to find new areas or new legal justifications for reducing sentences for these defendants," Hatch said.