Column: How public safety tools benefit our communities

Q: What updates are you proposing to the 2006 "Adam Walsh" law that tracks sex offenders? A: Many parents in Iowa will recognize John Walsh for turning a terrible tragedy into his life's mission to save young lives and prevent other families from...

Q: What updates are you proposing to the 2006 “Adam Walsh” law that tracks sex offenders?

A: Many parents in Iowa will recognize John Walsh for turning a terrible tragedy into his life’s mission to save young lives and prevent other families from experiencing a parent’s worst nightmare. His 6-year-old son, Adam Walsh, was kidnapped and murdered in 1981.
This father from Florida established a nationwide network to help find missing and exploited children. A decade ago, he worked closely with me and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on a measure to prevent sex offenders from exploiting gaps and loopholes in state sex offender registration laws. It was signed into law on the 25th anniversary of his son’s abduction.
Getting criminal sex offenders on the grid through a public registry provides school officials, law enforcement officials, neighborhood watch groups and parents with tools to exercise vigilance and take extra precautions to protect innocent children. From my chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’m steering another bipartisan bill that would extend the authorization for key programs in the 2006 law. My bill renews a federal grant program that provides resources to improve information sharing among agencies and close compliance gaps that allow repeat offenders to slip through the system and target new victims. Moreover, the bill authorizes continued resources for the U.S. Marshals Service to operate its fugitive apprehension operation to track sex offenders who fail to register or re-register.
As a society, we are obligated to protect and keep the next generation among us out of harm’s way. Renewing the Adam Walsh Act merits approval from Congress as well as the President’s signature. I am working to secure approval this year on the 35th anniversary of Adam Walsh’s abduction.

Q: How will “Kevin and Avonte’s Law” protect some of the most vulnerable people in our local communities?

A: Families with developmentally disabled children and aging parents often experience challenges that others do not face on a daily basis. For example, it’s common for many children with autism or seniors with Alzheimer’s disease to wander away from their caregiver’s supervision-with sometimes tragic results.
I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Chuck Schumer in honor of two young boys from our home states of Iowa and New York. Each boy was diagnosed with autism. Each boy wandered away from a supervised setting. And each boy drowned. One of the boys, 9-year-old Kevin Curtis Wills, died in 2008 after jumping into the Raccoon River near Jefferson. Parents and caregivers who have ever experienced the frantic search for a missing loved one with special needs no doubt feel powerless, or even hopeless, if the search turns from hours into days. I’m working to give these parents and families some peace of mind.
My bill would make resources available to deploy the use of technology to help unite missing family members before tragedy occurs. This bill also would make resources available to train first responders, school officials and parents so that home town communities can take steps to prevent a child’s disappearance or, in the event a child with developmental disabilities or a senior with dementia goes missing, take immediate action to return that family member to safety.
The prevalence of children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders keeps climbing. Consider that Iowa has the fifth highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the United States. Right now about 63,000 Iowans are living with the disease. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, I’d say this federal patient alert measure makes incredible sense for public policy and public safety. And for the thousands of Iowa families keeping watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week of a vulnerable family member, this initiative may someday turn into a lifeline that saves lives.

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