WASHINGTON — The Senate has unanimously passed legislation that expands the AMBER Alert system to U.S. territories.
The system, which uses TV, radio, cell phones and electronic signage to spread the word about missing children, has helped resource more than 900 children. The alert system was launched in 1996 following the the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas.
“AMBER Alerts have helped save hundreds of children,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “There’s no good reason for U.S. territories to be excluded from this system. With this bill now one step closer to becoming law, we can help children and their families quickly end the nightmare that is child abduction.”
Specifically, the bill would:
- “Reauthorize DOJ’s AMBER Alert grant program and make all five U.S. territories – American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands – eligible for funding;
- “Integrate territorial law enforcement agencies into the national AMBER Alert system, including state or regional AMBER Alert communication plans;
- “Direct the DOJ’s AMBER Alert coordinator to work with the Department of Homeland Security; and• “Authorize DOT to provide grants for AMBER Alert signs along public roadways and other major transportation routes, including airports, maritime ports, border crossings/checkpoints, and ports of exit from U.S. territories
“The AMBER Alert system has saved hundreds of children over the past 15 years, which is why it’s so important that we expand access to this essential service to all U.S. territories,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who co-sponsored the bill. “I am hopeful that the House of Representatives will pass this bipartisan bill quickly and send it to the president for his signature.”
It is likely to pass that House before the end of the month, and the current Congress.
It has been an alert-centric week already for Sen. Schatz, whose READI (Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement) Act, a bipartisan bill meant to improve the emergency alert system and avoid a repeat of the false alarm nuclear missile strike alert in Hawaii that drew an FCC investigation, passed the Senate Monday evening(Dec. 17).