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Victims’ Rights and Child Protection Measures Adopted by 115th Congress

Senate Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Victims’ Rights and Child Protection Measures Adopted by 115th Congress
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Mr. President, during my tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ve made it a top priority to champion bipartisan initiatives to enhance victims' rights and protect our nation’s at-risk children. In the 115th Congress, for example, I introduced and led the Senate in approving multiple bills to prevent crime, identify missing children, enhance services to crime victims, and reform our juvenile justice system. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved on the Judiciary Committee in this period, as we sent half a dozen of these measures to the President’s desk after both chambers passed them unanimously.
For example, last October, we passed and the President signed the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act. This measure, which I sponsored with Senator Blumenthal, increases penalties for the fraudsters who target our senior citizens. It requires federal agencies to collect more data on financial exploitation of the elderly—which is a terribly underreported crime.  It also calls for specialized training of federal investigators and prosecutors who handle these cases.
A second measure, which I also introduced and the President signed last January, is Kevin and Avonte’s Law.  This new law is named in honor of two boys with autism who tragically died after wandering away from their caregivers. It calls for the Justice Department to award grants to equip school personnel, caregivers, and first responders with training to help identify missing persons with autism or Alzheimer’s disease.  It also permits grant funds to be used for technologies that advance the search for missing children with developmental disabilities.
This legislation is important because research suggests that at least a third of children with autism repeatedly wander away from safety.  Since 2015, we’ve seen a doubling in the number of wandering-related deaths, according to SafeMinds, a nonprofit organization that advocates for these children.  I thank Senators Schumer, Tillis, and Klobuchar for joining as cosponsors of Kevin and Avonte’s Law.
Third, I also introduced, and both chambers this week cleared, legislation to extend the important victim services programs that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act established.  I led our Judiciary Committee in clearing this measure and a complementary bill introduced by Senator Cornyn.  Our bills, which were cosponsored by Senators Feinstein and Klobuchar, soon will go to the President’s desk for signature.
Both measures will help us combat modern human slavery, which unfortunately is alive and well today in this country.  It exists in the form of sex and labor trafficking. Through deception, threats, or violence, the perpetrators of these crimes will do whatever it takes to turn a profit at their victims’ expense.
Fourth, I this year championed legislation to renew and extend the Missing Children’s Assistance Act.  This measure, which the President signed this fall, makes funds available over the next five years for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to continue its important work.  The National Center partners with law enforcement and communities across the United States in the effort to identify and rescue missing or abused children.
A fifth measure that I introduced in this chamber with Senator Whitehouse would renew and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. That law hasn’t been updated since 2002.  I introduced a measure on this subject for the first time in the 114th Congress.  We this year concluded our negotiations with the House on a final version of this legislation, known as the Juvenile Justice Reform Act.  
The measure we adopted last week, which is on its way to the President’s desk for signature, reflects the oversight work I carried out several years ago.  This oversight, which was the subject of a 2015 Judiciary Committee hearing, revealed a flawed grant program, but also one worth saving because of its potential benefits for our nation’s at-risk youth. 
The reforms we’ve adopted also will help ensure the fairer treatment of minors in detention, through greater screening and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse.  This new law also promotes an end to the shackling of girls who give birth in detention, encourages greater separation of juvenile and adult offenders, and ensures that detained youth can continue their education. It will give youths who come into contact with the juvenile justice system a better chance of turning their lives around.
I should add that we included accountability provisions in virtually every grant funding measure reported by the Judiciary Committee during my tenure as chairman.  The inclusion of this language, which I authored several years ago, in statutes authorizing federal grant programs will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are used more wisely.
I want to again thank my colleagues from the Judiciary Committee who joined me as cosponsors of these and other new laws in this area.  I also want to thank the nonprofit groups, such as the National Autism Association, Elder Justice Coalition and Coalition for Juvenile Justice, as well as individual advocates, including Bob Blancato, Stuart Spielman, Lisa Wiederlight, Marion Mattingly, and others, who contributed in a meaningful way to these laws’ development and passage.  Finally, I want to thank my chief counsel for justice programs, Evelyn Fortier, for her work on these measures. Thank you, Mr. President.