WASHINGTON – Convicted child molesters would be listed on a national Internet database and would face a felony charge for failing to update their whereabouts under a bill the Senate approved Thursday.
The bill was designed to help police find more than 100,000 such sex offenders by creating the first national online listing available to the public and searchable by ZIP code. It also called for harsh federal punishment for sexually assaulting children, including the possibility of the death penalty when a victim is murdered.
The Senate approved the measure on a voice vote. The House is to consider it next week, and President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.
“Sex offenders have run rampant in this country and now Congress and the people are ready to respond with legislation that will curtail the ability of sex offenders to operate freely,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., who authored the legislation with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
“We track library books better than we track sex offenders. This evens the score,” said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., a sponsor in the House.
Debate was tearful from the start as the Senate considered the bill named for Adam Walsh, the murdered son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh. He watched from the gallery as senators thanked him for years of lobbying for the bill. July 27 is the 25th anniversary of the abduction of Adam, 6, and his subsequent murder.
“This has to be bittersweet for him,” said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., choking up as he made a rare reference to his infant daughter Amy, killed in a 1972 car crash.
In supporting the bill, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., brought up last year’s multiple rape and murder case involving the Groene family in North Idaho. Joseph Duncan, a convicted sex offender, is accused of the murders of four people, including 9-year-old Dylan Groene, and the kidnapping and sexual assault of his 8-year-old sister Shasta.
“We can’t bring children like Dylan Groene back, but we can be sure what happened to him and his sister never happens again,” Cantwell said. The bill’s national database will help close “blatant gaps” in existing state programs, and its tougher punishment will help prevent future tragedies, she added.