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Senate Passes Bill to Expand Amber Alert System

December 18, 2018, 9:41 AM HST
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The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation authored by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that will expand the AMBER Alert system to include all U.S. territories. The national AMBER Alert network distributes alerts on highway billboards, TVs, radio, and cellular phones to mobilize the public when a child is missing or abducted. It has helped rescue more than 900 children.

“AMBER Alerts have helped save hundreds of children,” Sen. Schatz said. “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.”

“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,” Sen. Murkowski said. “I am hopeful that the House of Representatives will pass this bipartisan bill quickly and send it to the president for his signature.”

First established in 2003, the original legislation authorizing the program did not include grant funding to help all U.S. territories implement the system. In addition to all 50 states, only the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were eligible for grant funding.

The Schatz-Murkowski legislation will direct the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide federal grant funding to help all U.S. territories implement the AMBER Alert program on a voluntary basis. Specifically, it will:

  • 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.
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The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass before the end of the year.

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