Comments Of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On S. 3297, The Advancing America’s Priorities Act Press Conference, Capitol Hill July 23, 2008

Today we talk about pieces of legislation with broad bipartisan support that have moved through the Judiciary Committee and that have passed the House of Representatives, but that have been stalled on the Senate floor by Republican objection.  Some of these bills have been incorporated by the Majority leader into the “Advancing America’s Priorities Act,” which combines 35 bills that span across seven Senate Committees into one bill.  

People are rightly worried about keeping their communities safe and protecting their children.  The Judiciary Committee has worked throughout this Congress to advance the priorities of Americans.  Many of these important efforts have been obstructed by Republican objections. My statement to the Senate yesterday discussed this obstruction in detail.

One key bill included in this package is the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act.  I thank Senator Dodd and Congressman Lewis for their tireless work on this bill.  It is an honor to be here with Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin.  I thank Mr. Wright, for his courage and his commitment to fighting for justice for so many years.  The primary purpose of the Till bill is to track down those whose violent acts during a period of national turmoil remain unpunished. 

By passing this legislation, we honor Emmett Till and all those who sacrificed their lives advancing civil rights.  It is disgraceful that it has taken us so long to take this basic step to pursue justice too long delayed.  It is incredible that some continue to obstruct these efforts.

Another important piece of legislation in this bill is the reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.  Many Vermonters have told me how much that Act is needed to help young people in Vermont and around the country.  When the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on this issue in April, we heard from Mark Redmond and Michael Hutchins of Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington, Vermont.  They told us how much that Act is needed to help young people in Vermont and around the country.  Mr. Hutchins had been homeless himself as a young person and saw first hand how the programs the Act funds can help children turn their lives around and give back to their communities.  I also held a hearing in Rutland, Vermont, this winter on crime in small cities and towns, which emphad the need for programs to help young people in difficult circumstances. 

The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act reauthorization will double the funding states like Vermont are guaranteed to receive for programs to benefit runaway and homeless young people.  This bill will help our young people, and we should pass it right away.  The House bill passed in June. 

In addition, the eight Judiciary Committee-related bills include several concerning child pornography, child exploitation, and drugs.  The Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act passed the House 409-0 last November; the Enhancing the Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography provision passed the House 416-0 last November; the PROTECT Our Children Act passed the House 415-2 last November; the Drug Endangered Children Act passed the House last September 389-4.  All of these bills have been cleared by all Democratic Senators.

This is legislation that should have passed the Senate by consent. It is time for Congress to start working more effectively, and this bill is a step in that direction.  

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