A Good Day for America's Children

Last week a hard-fought political struggle ended for me when President Bush signed my sex offender registration bill into law. This act strengthens penalties against sex offenders and authorizes better tools for tracking the monsters who stalk our children.

The ceremony came on a day of very mixed emotions. In my home state of Utah, police had just discovered the murdered body of 5-year-old Destiny Norton in her neighbor's basement. Her death is a dark reminder that we need to do more to protect our children.

With this new law, we will. We sent a message that we will not forgive unforgivable crimes.

Child abuse is certainly not new, but new technology has expanded the way predators can reach their victims. This law, named The Adam Walsh Act, after the murdered son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh, will address the horror of child exploitation on the Internet. The act dramatically increases penalties for those who download child pornography.

Some have compared the Internet to an "open game preserve" where sex offenders can prey on vulnerable children, meeting them in chat rooms and luring them into horrible situations.

Pedophiles use the web to hunt our children. After working for years with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and others, my House colleagues - notably Rep. Mark Foley - and I introduced a bill that would use the web to hunt the predators.

The act creates a nationwide database so parents, law enforcement, and others can know if convicted offenders are in their neighborhoods. We already have sex offender websites, but such sites are frequently out of date and inaccurate. Before Adam Walsh, frankly, we tracked library books in this country better than we did sex offenders. Once we catch these guys, we can't let them get away. And those we catch, we won't go soft on.

The Department of Justice will now combat sex offenders with the new SMART office. An acronym for Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registration, Tracking, the SMART office is also a tribute to Elizabeth Smart and family for their help with this law. Elizabeth and her father, Ed, have been relentless crusaders for this and other recent child-protection measures, such as the Amber Alert.

I don't know if this law could have saved little Destiny. But I know it will save other kids like her. This is a good day in the United States, except for the bad guys.