WASHINGTON – Parents of abducted children are waging a telephone and e-mail campaign to urge House leaders to pass a revised Amber Alert bill this week, saying a delay could cost children's lives.
An Amber Alert measure passed by the House last week was part of a larger bill that has not yet been approved by the Senate. The Senate has passed a stand-alone Amber Alert measure.
Proponents would like the House to pass a stand-alone measure similar to the one passed by the Senate. They fear time could run out before a conference committee resolves the differences between the two bills, potentially jeopardizing a nationwide network for finding abducted children.
House leaders are hoping to recess this week. Congress could return for a lame-duck session after Election Day, but would stay only until its work on spending bills is done.
"In the process of the debate, lives will be lost, lives of children will be lost,'' said Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom June 5 and remains missing.
Amber Alerts are named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted and later found murdered in Arlington, Texas. They are national bulletins, distributed through radio and television broadcasts and electronic highway signs, on kidnapped children and their abductors.
The Amber measures would spend $25 million next year to create a national Amber network and provide matching grants to states and communities for equipment and training.
Amber Alerts have been credited with helping rescue abducted children, including, most recently, Nicole Lightfoot Hellman. Hellman's adoptive mother, Sandy Hellman, credited the alert system with saving her daughter, a Nevada teen who was found in Texas.
Richard Diamond, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said the bill that the House passed includes several measures important for curbing crimes against children. He said they all passed separately by overwhelming margins in the House and should be passed in the Senate.
Parts of the Amber plan will go into place regardless of what Congress does. President Bush announced on Oct. 2 that the Justice Department will use $10 million of existing funds to hire a national Amber network coordinator. The money also will be used for training and equipment upgrades.