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Few things are more important to Americans than the health and well-being of their children.
As a mother, I know what it is like to worry about your daughter when she goes to the mall with friends or walks to the school bus stop.
More importantly, as a former law enforcement officer serving for 17 years in Orange County, I know all too well the dangers posed to our communities by sexual offenders and predators.
Six years ago, Central Florida was rocked by the abduction and murder of Jessica Lunsford. This beautiful young girl was kidnapped from her bedroom by a convicted sex offender and murdered not far from her home. While this tragedy took Jessica from us, it spurred Florida and the federal government to take bold steps to crack down on sexual offenders and increase transparency in the registration of those who commit sexual-related crimes.
I was proud to be one of the leaders in Florida in the implementation of the Jessica Lunsford Act, legislation that has fundamentally changed the way that sexual offenders and predators are reported and tracked.
But sadly the issue of sexual exploitation of our children is not just an issue for Florida, but rather one that must be dealt with nationwide. That is why Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed in July 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. This comprehensive law implemented strong protections for children, toughened penalties on sexual offenders and created a nationwide Web-based tool to track sex offenders and predators.
This online tool, known as the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, has been perhaps the most visible component of the Adam Walsh Act, giving the American public the tools necessary to know where those who commit sexual crimes live, increasing transparency in the registration system and helping keep our children safe.
SORNA is just one component of the Adam Walsh Act up for reauthorization this year. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, which is charged with conducting the hearings on the status and implementation of the legislation, I am looking forward to a thorough examination of the provisions within the law to see what is working, what can be improved and how we can best protect our children and others from the threat of sexual attack.
Unfortunately, while Florida has taken proactive steps to make sure that it is in full compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, it is one of only four states that have done so. Four years after the law’s enactment, and coming up on its first reauthorization, the facts show that much more needs to be done to ensure compliance with the law.
American families deserve to know the people working at their children’s schools, summer camps and recreation centers have not been convicted of a sex offense and do not pose a threat to their son or daughter.
Ensuring the tools are available to the American public is the responsibility of Congress and the state legislatures, which must reauthorize the law and take the steps necessary to strengthen laws on the books against sexual offenders and predators.
The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held its first hearing of the year on the Adam Walsh Act just before the recess. This was our first opportunity to hear from those charged with helping to implement the law; it will certainly not be the last.
Our children are the future of our nation, and leaving them vulnerable to the threat of sexual attack is simply not acceptable. The Judiciary Committee will fulfill its charge over the coming months to fully examine the law and recommend ways to strengthen and improve the law so that, hopefully, there are no more tragedies like Jessica Lunsford or Adam Walsh in the future.
Rep. Sandy Adams is one of seven freshman Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. She was elected with 60 percent against Democratic incumbent Suzanne Kosmas in Florida’s 24th district (East central — Orlando suburbs, part of the Space Coast).