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Lawmakers push national Amber alert system

'Unparalleled record' of finding children

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tom Harkin and Susan Collins, left to right, talk about the Amber legislation.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tom Harkin and Susan Collins, left to right, talk about the Amber legislation.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation to expand the reach of a child abduction alert system across state lines. Amber alerts, currently used in all or parts of 26 states, have aided in the safe return of more than two dozen abducted children, lawmakers said.

The bill -- sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Dianne Feinstein D-California. and about 20 other lawmakers -- would establish an Amber alert coordinator in the Justice Department to communicate with states and determine whether more than one state should issue an alert when a child is abducted.

Gallery: Recent missing youngster cases 
The Amber Alert system 
 The Amber Alert
  • A child abduction response system
  • Uses radio, television, roadside electronic billboards and emergency broadcast systems to disseminate information about kidnapping suspects and victims soon after the crime is committed
  • Solicits aid from the public to look for victims
  • Used for children younger than 18
  • Employed when serious harm or death possible
  • Named for 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Arlington, Texas, who was kidnapped and killed in 1996

  • Source: Klaas Kids Foundation

    The legislation would also provide $25 million in federal matching grants to states to help them buy electronic highway signs and other equipment needed to set up an Amber alert system, as well as education and training programs.

    Under the current system, local law enforcement and broadcasters team up to issue immediate emergency alerts to state agencies, posting pertinent information on electronic highway signs and distributing information through the news media.

    The alert system is credited with recovering 27 children nationwide and gained prominence last month when two teenage girls were kidnapped at gunpoint near Lancaster, California. Authorities credited the alert for helping them rescue the girls.

    "We've had 13 Amber alerts in California in one month," Feinstein said in unveiling the legislation Tuesday. "One was a misstep. All other 12 have resulted in the return of the child. Eight were abductions from strangers and four involved family members. Now that's an unparalleled record."

    A Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday. Reps. Jennifer Dunn, R-Washington, and Martin Frost, D-Texas, are sponsoring a similar bill in the House.

    Rep. Mark Foley, R-Florida, has another version of the legislation; his bill would require states to set up an Amber alert program before getting any federal funds. Foley's bill would commit about $99.5 million to the program for the first year.

    The alert system is named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Texas in 1996. Lawmakers said "Amber" is also an acronym for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.




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