Rather than celebrate a long-sought political triumph Thursday as President Bush signed into law his bill to crack down on sex offenders, Sen. Orrin Hatch mourned another child lost to a predator.
"We in Utah celebrate this victory in the shadow of a horrible injustice. The murder of 5-year-old Destiny Norton is a dark reminder that we need to do more to protect our children. With this new law, we will," Hatch, R-Utah, said after the bill-signing ceremony.
Bush signed it on the 25th anniversary of the abduction of 6-year-old Adam Walsh in Florida. The child was found murdered 16 days later. His killer was never identified, but the tragedy sparked the national missing child movement. Hatch named his bill in honor of young Walsh, calling it the "Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act."
Walsh's parents, John and Reve, watched as Bush signed the bill at the White House. John is host of "America's Most Wanted," and he and Reve co-founded the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Reve Walsh told reporters after the ceremony, "Adam's presence is felt here with us today. This is all about children. It tells children in our country that they are precious and are cared about even though they don't have any money, or vote or lobby that we will take care of them."
Also present were many families of abducted children. Kidnapped-and-rescued Elizabeth Smart and her father, Ed, were among them. They had lobbied for the bill for a year and a half, visited numerous members of Congress and appeared on national TV programs pushing it before final passage.
Bush said, "Our nation grieves with every family that's suffered the unbearable pain of a child who's been abducted or abused. This law makes an important step forward in this country's efforts to protect those who cannot protect themselves."
The bill creates a national database of convicted sex offenders and requires them to register their whereabouts every month in person. Failure to register is now a felony. Until now, most offenders had to register only once a year, and failure to do so was just a misdemeanor.
Hatch and others estimate that the whereabouts of 100,000 of the nation's 550,000 registered sex offenders is currently unknown leaving big holes in current state Web sites of offenders. (Utah's web site is: www.cr.ex.state.ut.us/community/sexoffenders/)
Bush said, "These improvements will help prevent sex offenders from evading detection by moving from one state to the next . . . (and will help) parents have the information they need to protect their children from sex offenders that might be in their neighborhoods."
The new law increases criminal penalties for child predators, including a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence for kidnapping or maiming a child and a 30-year sentence for sex with a child younger than 12 or for sexually assaulting a child between 13 and 17 years old.
It increases penalties for crimes such as child prostitution and sex trafficking of children and authorizes regional task forces to help provide money and training for local law enforcement of crimes involving the sexual exploitation of minors on the Internet.
The new law establishes a comprehensive federal DNA database of material collected from convicted molesters, and procedures for the routine DNA collection and comparison to the database when someone has been convicted of such an offense.
Contributing: The Associated Press
E-mail: [email protected]