President Bush has signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, one of a cluster of youth-directed bills passed by Congress in recent weeks. Bush signed the foster care/adoptions bill on Oct. 7, about two weeks after it passed Congress.
Two others passed and awaiting the president's signature include the Protect Our Children Act and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) reauthorization. The president has also signed the Mental Health Parity provision that was included in the huge Wall Street bailout legislation.
Sponsors of and advocates for the bills awaiting signature said they believe that the president will sign them in coming days.
The Protect Our Children Act, which would provide up to $320 million in federal funding over the course of five years for the Department of Justice to combat child pornography, passed Congress Sept. 27.
Under the new act, the Department of Justice is required to identify high-priority suspects at least every 30 days. This task would require technology equivalent to the program invented by Flint Waters in Wyoming in 2005, which lawmakers and Justice officials originally complained identified more child predators than they could pursue, according to Grier Weeks, the executive director of the National Association to PROTECT Children.
Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) spearheaded the bill. The president is expected to sign the bill within the next week, according to Jonathan Beeton, the communications director for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the bill's co-sponsor.
"I can't imagine that given the bi-partisan support, the president would want to ignore ... legislation that Democrats and Republicans came together on," said Camille Cooper, director of legislative affairs for the National Association to PROTECT Our Children.
Officials from The Department of Justice and the FBI have said child exploitation is growing, and that limited resources allowed the organizations to investigate only 2 percent of the 500,000 individuals known to be tracking child pornography in 2007.
Programs for runaway and homeless youth have also suffered from a lack of government finances, but the RHYA aims to change that. The act increases federal funds to provide shelter, counseling and other resources for this community. The House voted unanimously for the bill and it passed in the Senate Sept. 30. Many
"The bill has always had bi-partisan support and there's no reason for Bush not to sign it," said Mishaela Duran, the former vice president of public policy for the National Network for Youth, which called for the act. Duran is now working for the National Association of Parents and Teachers.
According to a federal evaluation, the previous RHYA in 2003 increased school attendance and employment and reduced parental abuse. However, not all youth in need could be served due to the limited financing of the act.
The new provisions increase the RHYA's budget from $113 million to $165 million nationally, as well as increase the minimum amount given to each state from $100,000 to $200,000. This would help smaller programs such as those in Washington, D.C. This extra money would allow youth to stay in temporary shelters for 21 days as opposed to the current 15 days, as well as increase youth's maximum time in transitional living from 18 months to 21 months.
In addition, the act mandates a study on runaway and homeless youth every five years in order know how to properly serve this group.