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House Passes Amber Alert Legislation

The House passed child protection legislation Thursday despite Democratic complaints that extra provisions would bog the bill down in the Senate.

But in the end, the bill passed easily, 410-14.

Supports of the Amber missing child alert system, including the family of Elizabeth Smart, the abducted Salt Lake City girl who was recently rescued, wanted legislation aimed at bolstering the program considered separately. But House leaders rolled the Amber Alert into the larger Child Abduction Prevention Act, which included some controversial measures.

“We have a complicated, bogged-down bill,” Rep. Major Owens (R-N.Y.) said from the floor.

The bill would ban “virtual” child pornography in which adults appear to be engaging in sex with minors who are actually of legal age. It would punish people who go on foreign “sex tours” in which they engage in sexual acts with minors, and it would give law enforcement agents new wiretapping powers to catch criminals who exploit children as well.

It would also eliminate the statue of limitations for child abduction and sex crimes and includes a “two strikes” policy for child sex offenders. In addition, the legislation would add $20 million in grant money to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The bill’s total price tag is $76 million.

After the vote, Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the bill is now on the “ultra fast-track” and that he will ask to send it straight to a conference committee with the Senate.

The Senate passed a similar bill that also would ban “virtual” child pornography in February.

Sensenbrenner wants that bill, instead of a narrower Senate measure that would boost Amber Alert funding, to be used in conference.

“The Amber Alert as passed by the Senate is a ‘feel good’ bill that does nothing beyond what the president, [through executive order,] has already done,” Sensenbrenner said.

While House Democrats such as Rep. Martin Frost (Texas) warned that some of the provisions, such as the expanded wiretapping, might not fly in the Senate, Sensenbrenner was confident that a conference committee would be convened quickly.

Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said: “Leadership has assured us it won’t languish in conference.”

While Sensenbrenner wants his entire bill taken up in negotiations, he conceded he has no assurances that the Senate will accept all of the House provisions.

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