CHILDREN'S SAFETY AND VIOLENT CRIME REDUCTION ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - July 20, 2006)
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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I begin speaking to this legislation by thanking my buddy. And I know that is a colloquial expression in this formal place we work when I say ``my buddy,'' but Senator Hatch and I have worked together for a long time. It is hard for me to believe we have been here as long as we have. I have actually been here a couple years longer than he has. We have our differences in philosophy. We have never had any differences personally. We have never had any differences in terms of our relationship.
The two things I am proudest of that we have both done is we have both--and I say this somewhat self-serving, I acknowledge--we both always hired staff that is respected. I do not think there has ever been a time that Orrin has not had a staff and staff members who my staff completely, totally trusted. I think it is fair to say that is the case on Orrin's side as well.
That makes a gigantic difference because I think the work that Ken Valentine, the fellow sitting to Orrin's right, did--a loner, Secret Service guy from the administration, from the executive branch--and a fellow I am very proud of, whom I will mention in a moment--the work they did with John Walsh and others, to overcome the hurdles that get thrown in the way of good legislation because everybody has their own agenda.
Everybody knows that for Orrin and me--and I would add my friend from North Dakota--that some of us have had this as sort of a--I have been accused of this being a hobbyhorse for me, this, all the work we have done for so long on dealing with child predators and abused women and abused children. But what happens sometimes is that good legislation gets stuck because other Senators, who do not have that as the same priority--although they are for it--attach a lot of extraneous things because there is something they feel is even more critical than the legislation, and they see it, to use the Senate jargon, as a vehicle to get their views heard and their legislation passed.
Well, as to the work that Dave Turk of my staff did and Ken Valentine did in order to sort of clear the way for this, I think everyone who has worked on this, including John Walsh, would acknowledge is extraordinary.
So I want to personally--there are others, I am sure. There are others. I do not mean, by mentioning these two individuals, to in any way denigrate the incredible work done by so many others. But I think sometimes the public wonders why we pay staff members--all of whom can make a lot more money if they did something else--the kind of salaries they get paid, in relative terms. It is because they are so good. They are so dedicated. They are so talented.
In my experience of being here 33 years, I have found that when a staff member, no less than a Senator, has an intellectual as well as an emotional commitment to what they are doing, it is even more effective.
I know for my friend and staff member, Dave Turk, who is a father, and for Ken Valentine, whom I have only gotten to know personally recently, this is more than legislation, this is more than passing this piece of legislation. This is the stuff of which your life's work is viewed as being worthwhile.
I remember Jerry Brown, when he used to be the Governor of California, once said when he was cutting pay--I am not making a judgment of whether he should have or should not have--when cutting the pay of State employees, he made a statement only Jerry Brown could make, 20 years ago: Well, they have the psychic remuneration of living in California. I do not know about that. But I can tell you that the psychic remuneration for Orrin Hatch and Joe Biden and Ken Valentine and Dave Turk, and many others who worked on this, makes this job worthwhile.
The two things of which I am most proud that I have done in 33 years are dealing with this issue in particular and culminating in this legislation, the Adam Walsh Child Protection Safety Act, and the Violence Against Women Act--which, I might add, one of only seven guys who jumped out front in 1994 to get that done was also Orrin Hatch.
So, Senator Hatch, I thank you. We have been in the minority, the majority, the minority; we have switched places back and forth, but it has never changed our relationship, never changed how we have worked with each other, and never changed the good work I think we and many others can say we are proud to have participated in.
Mr. President, I wish to talk a few minutes about the actual act. Congress has done a good deal over the last 25 years--and I might add, starting with, God love him, our old and deceased friend, Senator Thurmond from South Carolina--to protect kids. We created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1984. We enacted the crime bill in 1994. We enacted the Amber Alert system in 2003.
But every time we have done something significant, the bad guys have figured out a way to take advantage of it, to find a loophole, to find an opening. And that is what this is about--and I wish he had floor privileges because he could speak to it better than any of us--but this is about, to paraphrase John Walsh, with whom I had dinner the other night--this is about closing the door. This is about uniting 50 States in common purpose and in league with one another to prevent these lowlifes from slipping through the cracks. So we recognize that what we have done in the past did not do all we wanted to do.
I might add one more thing. Joe Biden and Orrin Hatch come from different sides of the political spectrum on a lot of things. But I can assure you, not only is this tough, but the civil liberties of Americans are not in jeopardy with this. This is not--this is not--a case where in order to get bad guys we have had to in any way lessen the constitutional protections made available
to good guys. So I think it is a proud piece of work.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as Senator Hatch has indicated, estimates there are over 550,000 sex offenders nationwide, and more than 20 percent of them are unaccounted for. I would argue that there are a whole lot more than 550,000, who never get caught up in the criminal web for a thousand different reasons that I do not have time to explain. But at a minimum, this means there are as many as 150,000 of these dangerous sex offenders out there, individuals who have already committed crimes and may, unless we do something, continue to jeopardize the most vulnerable among us.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act takes direct aim at this problem. Plain and simple, this legislation, I can say with certainty, will save children's lives.
Sexual predators must be tracked, and our cops and our parents have a right to know when these criminals are in their neighborhoods. That is what we do here.
First--an important point--let's start at the beginning. This legislation requires sex offenders to register prior to their release from prison, to make sure we give them absolutely no opportunity to do what happens now: fall through the cracks between the moment the prison door opens and before they set up a residence.
We also make sure we are keeping tabs on everyone who poses a threat to our kids. Advances in technology are a great thing, but many times there is a dark side. The Internet, for example, puts the knowledge of the world at a child's fingertips, but it can also be and is abused by sexual predators causing kids harm. To steal a phrase from my son, who is a Federal prosecutor, he told me: Dad, it used to be you could lock your door or hold your child's hand at the mall and keep them out of harm's way.
But today, in my son's words, with a click of a mouse, a predator can enter your child's bedroom in a locked home and begin the pernicious road to violating that child. That is why this legislation adds the ``use of the Internet to facilitate or commit a crime against a minor'' as an offense that could trigger registration.
And once someone is on a sex offender registry, we make sure they can't go back into hiding in the shadows. Under this bill, child predators would be required to periodically and in person check in with the authorities.
They also would be required to update their photographs so law enforcement and parents will know where these folks are and what they look like now and not solely what they looked like years ago that is unrecognizable now.
And if a registered offender fails to comply with any of these requirements, he or she faces a felony of up to 10 years in prison. If an unregistered sex offender commits a crime of violence, the offender will face a 5-year mandatory prison sentence in addition to any other sentence imposed.
A noncompliant sex offender will also face U.S. Marshals who have been brought in under this bill to lend their expertise and manpower to help track down these dangerous individuals.
John and I were talking about it at dinner. These guys saddle up, to use his phrase. They are the most underrated, underestimated part of American law enforcement. They do the job incredibly well. They want to get in on this, and they are now part of this. We now have designated their expertise and manpower to track down these individuals.
One of the biggest problems in our current sex offender registry system happens when registered sex offenders travel from one State to another.
Delaware has worked hard to keep track of the 3,123 sex offenders registered to my State. But there are other States that are not so advanced and whose systems are not so sophisticated.
This bill fully integrates and expands the State systems so that communities nationwide will be warned when high-risk offenders come to live among them. And we target resources under this bill at the worst of the worst and provide Federal dollars to make sure States aren't left holding the bag.
We also require the U.S. Department of Justice to create software to share with States in order to allow for information to be shared instantly and seamlessly among them. When a sex offender moves from New Jersey to Delaware, for example, we have to be absolutely sure that Delaware authorities know about it.
This bill also mandates a national sex offender Web site so that parents can find out who is living in their neighborhoods. Parents will now be able to search for information on sex offenders by geographic radius and ZIP Code.
Do we have a silver bullet, a foolproof system here? I have been around too long to know the answer to that question is no. What we do have is a slew of commonsense ways for fixing our current problem.
As I mentioned earlier, it has taken us months and years to get to the point of enacting this important bill into law. Again, I give credit where credit is due, as has already been mentioned, to John and Reve Walsh. I know we are not supposed to--and I will not--violate Senate rules by pointing out who is where. But the fact is, if I were sitting next to them in the gallery now, I suspect if I put my hand on his arm, I would feel the tension in his arm.
This has to be a very bittersweet moment for John Walsh. For what are we doing here today? We are naming a bill that will save the lives of hopefully thousands of other young people after a beautiful young boy who was victimized and killed.
The thing I find most amazing about John and Reve is, I don't know how anybody who has lost a child can have the courage to do what they have done. I know from my own experience, which I will not speak to, there are certain circumstances I cannot walk into because it reminds me of one of my children I lost.
I could never do what John and Reve did. I could never do what they did. And we could have never done today what we are doing without them. That is not hyperbole; that is the God's truth. We could never have gotten this done without John and Reve Walsh.
It has to be one god-awful bitter moment, for the 27th of this month, if I am not mistaken, will be the 25th anniversary.
A lot of people on this floor, including one of my colleagues I am sitting with, have lost children. It doesn't matter whether it is 2 years past, 10 years, 25 years, or 50 years past. That part never passes. I thank John and Reve for their courage, courage way beyond anything I could possess.
I have known John for many years. We go way back to 1984, working together to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children along with Senator Hatch. He has been at it year after year, pushing the Congress to do more.
John, you have been an inspiration. You continue to be. Don't underestimate it. You have been doing it so long, don't underestimate how many thousands of people take solace from what you do and what you have done.
It has not been my style in 33 years to take the floor to speak in such personal terms, but this is ultimately personal. It is the ultimate, ultimate personal thing, your child.
Earlier this week I had a chance to sit down with Ed Smart whose daughter Elizabeth--what a magnificently beautiful, poised, gracious young woman--then 14 years, was abducted at gunpoint from her family in Salt Lake City while her parents and four brothers slept. She was found 9 months later. The strength of that family's character, its resilience is remarkable.
I have taken too much of the Senate's time. Let me again thank my colleague from Utah. I also thank our committee chairman and all the members of our committee. They also deserve a great deal of credit.
Other Senators, including my colleague on the floor, who has been relentless, absolutely relentless, Senator Dorgan; he added a major, important piece to this legislation. I thank him for that. Senator Bill Nelson, Chuck Grassley, all contributed important parts to this bill. They each took tragedies that happened in their States and used them as a call to action.
Senators FRIST and REID--our majority and minority leaders--also deserve all our thanks by ensuring that this important bill was treated with the priority it deserved.
Congressman Foley has worked tirelessly on this bill in the House for years, and Congressman Pomeroy was by his side. And Chairman Sensenbrenner guided this bill through the House of Representatives.
I don't think there is one of us on this floor who wouldn't trade away this bill for being able to bring back to life all those innocent lives that were lost that allowed us, in a bizarre way, to produce this legislation.
We cannot redeem the dead, but we can, in fact, protect the living. I think this bill, with the many parts I didn't mention, including DNA testing and a whole range of other things, is fair, decent, and honorable. Most important, there is not a single thing we can do that is more worthy of our effort than protecting our children. That is what all of us on this floor--and many who are not--today are playing a part in doing.
Again, I close by thanking John Walsh.
I yield the floor.