CHILDREN'S SAFETY AND VIOLENT CRIME REDUCTION ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - July 20, 2006)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I will pick up where the Senator from Delaware left off and the Senator from Utah, also thanking John Walsh and his wife Reve for their tremendous contribution to our society but in particular for this piece of legislation. We all have to deal in life with tragedies, struggles. It is the measure of a person to see how that individual responds.
Given the nature of the tragedy they experience, it could have easily destroyed them. They took this horrific incident and turned it into a tremendous good. As Senator Biden says, who knows personally, I can't think of anything worse than losing a child. Losing a child in such an incredibly tragic situation has to be more than you can possibly bear. To take that emotion and channel it into a positive course for the benefit of other children is an incredible legacy for Adam. I know John and Reve do it for that reason, to build this incredible legacy. This legacy is added to today by naming this bill the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
Not only is this a great thing they are doing for society, they are a great model for so many who experience tragedies every single day. People can look at them and see how something that I am sure brought them to their knees can be turned around to do so much good for so many. So they are not only helping the children, helping those who are victims of crime, but they are helping those who are victims of life's tragedies that befall us all and giving them an inspiration to move forward and turn tragedy into triumph. This is another triumph. It may not even be the biggest triumph they have experienced, but it is certainly a triumph and a positive thing to add to that legacy.
I rise to talk about two pieces of this bill I have been working on and of which I am the author. One is called Project Safe Childhood. The second is called the Schools SAFE Act. I introduced Project Safe Childhood a couple months ago after learning of a program at the Justice Department called Project Safe Childhood.
The Justice Department, in reviewing and seeing the incredible proliferation of child exploitation crimes, basically being proliferated through the Internet, took on a new program within the Department. This new program was in response to what we see of sexual predators on the Internet and with other types of sexual trafficking, again, as a result of the Internet and other places. They developed a program which is a very good program. It has five main purposes:
First, it seeks to integrate Federal, State, and local efforts and investigate and prosecute child exploitation cases.
Second, the project allows major case coordination between the Department of Justice and other appropriate Federal agencies.
Third, it increases Federal involvement in child exploitation cases by providing additional investigative tools and additional penalties that are available under Federal law that State and local governments may not have.
Four, the project provides increased training for Federal, State, and local law enforcement regarding the investigation and prosecution of computer-facilitated crimes against children.
Finally, it promotes community and educational programs to raise national awareness about the threat of online sexual predators and to provide information to families on how to report violations.
As the father of six children, I can tell you that what Senator Biden said about what parents used to feel they could do to protect children--locking doors and being with them--has gotten a lot more complex, with that fiber optic tube that runs into your house that allows the entire world to come crashing into your home and allows sick people to be able to prey on members of your family. We need to do more to educate parents. This is like pointing a loaded gun at your child, in many cases, and asking them to get on and play. This is a dangerous tool.
Yes, there are wonderful things on the Internet. There is a tremendous world of knowledge and adventure on the Internet. But as we know, too often the major traffic on the Internet is not those wonderful and informative sites. They are sites that prey on our failings and weaknesses, prey on the unsuspecting, on the innocent, in many cases. We as parents have to be better armed to deal with these people who want to reach into our homes and corrupt members of our families, corrupt everything that we are trying to teach them not to do and, worse yet, potentially could opt them into behavior that could risk, ultimately, their lives.
So this program is very important that the Justice Department is engaged in. I contacted the Department and worked with them to develop an authorization bill so we could provide a stable stream of funding for Project Safe Childhood and expand the program in a way that the Department on its own could not do.
For example, increasing penalties for registered sex offenders, child sex trafficking and sexual abuse, and other child exploitation crimes, which this does. It creates a children's safety online awareness campaign and authorizes grants for child safety programs. So in addition to what the Justice Department program does, we add those provisions to help with better coordination between State, local, and Federal prosecutors and investigators.
I had a meeting in the western district of Pennsylvania with our U.S. attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, and State and local officials. They were talking about it--just the practical difficulties of assigning police and investigators and detectives and prosecutors on a local level and the support they need and the overlapping jurisdictional issues. So this will help them be able to create seamless teams of people to go after these child abusers, as well as to project into the community information that is important to prevent these crimes from happening.
So I am grateful that Senators SPECTER, HATCH, and LEAHY have worked to include that provision in the bill. I think it will take us a step forward in protecting our children from these predators and from exploitation.
The second piece of legislation is called the Schools SAFE Act. We spend a lot of time on the Senate floor talking about how we can improve the quality of education. But it almost goes without saying that when you drop your child off at school, at a bare minimum, you expect that the people who interact with them at school will not harm them. You would think that would be almost a given. But, unfortunately, in our country today we actually have a very poor system of checking as to whether people who are hired in schools are, in fact, safe for the children with whom they interact.
Obviously, the vast majority of teachers and people who work in schools are good and decent people and are there because they want to help children, not because they want to harm children. But like anything else, if you are someone who is a sexual predator, and you are looking to harm children, what better place to go than a place where there are children every single day you could possibly exploit. So it is important that we have sufficient checks in place to make sure that these predators are not in educational settings where they can harm and corrupt our children.
The current state of play is basically a mishmash of different State laws and different participation in a system created to help schools access information about criminal background checks. Some States require, for example, only a State background check, while other States require an FBI background check. With these disparities, individuals continue to find opportunities to evade safeguards that have been put into place.
In Pennsylvania, an FBI background check is only required for individuals applying to schools for work and have lived in the Commonwealth for less than 2 years. So if you lived in the Commonwealth for several years and you committed a crime someplace else, Pennsylvania would not have the ability to check that out.
Beginning in 2007, Pennsylvania will require applicants who have lived in the Commonwealth for more than 2 years to also undergo FBI background checks.
So we are addressing that issue in Pennsylvania.
I think it just goes to show you that there is no good system out there. What we need to do is allow States to access a database that was established by Congress in 1998 in the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact. This compact allows States to share background information on individuals seeking employment in a school district. This is an important thing to have all the States participating in. I will not go through all of the problems, but there are all sorts of memoranda and agreements and data-sharing information. As a result of that, only roughly half of the States--26 States--participate in the compact. Even States that have joined the compact don't always get access to the information they need. This is a problem.
You could have a man from Pennsylvania who committed sex crimes in Pennsylvania and moved to Nevada. Nevada is a compact State. Nevada could do the compact based check of whether this person has committed crimes against children and find nothing, because Pennsylvania does not participate in the compact. So they could be hired in Nevada schools without any knowledge of the individual's problems in Pennsylvania.
This is obviously a great threat to our children. So what this bill does is give schools across our Nation an essential resource when making hiring decisions. They will be able to access this database and conduct fingerprint-based background checks on individuals who are seeking work with or around children in schools. So this is another important step in protecting our children, in addition to all of the other provisions in this bill--protecting our children in this case in our schools.
I thank, again, the chairman and ranking member for their tremendous assistance to me in getting this legislation in the final package. Again, I congratulate all who have been involved in this very important legislation.