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Rallying for Dru's Law

WASHINGTON - Linda Walker, mother of slain UND student Dru Sjodin, spoke at a rally here Tuesday for legislation to increase monitoring and penalties of sex offenders.

WASHINGTON - Linda Walker, mother of slain UND student Dru Sjodin, spoke at a rally here Tuesday for legislation to increase monitoring and penalties of sex offenders.

The legislation, the "Children's Safety Act of 2005," is a package of bills aimed at cracking down on sex offenders. It includes the "Dru's Law" bill to create a national sex offender registry on the Internet, as well as increasing mandatory minimum sentences for sex crimes against children and broadening the definition of "sex offender" to include misdemeanor sex crimes.

Sjodin was kidnapped Nov. 23, 2003, from the parking lot of Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, sparking thousands to search for her, and then, when a convicted sex offender in Crookston was arrested, sparking outrage over how such criminals are handled. Sjodin's body was found in April 2004 near Crookston. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. remains in a Fargo jail, awaiting a trial scheduled for March in federal court on a charge of kidnapping and killing her. He pleaded not guilty.

"Put the rights of the innocent before the rights of those who stop them," said Walker, of Pequot Lakes, Minn., who said she was a voice for her daughter.

Walker, Walsh and Wetterling

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Walker joined members of Congress, child advocates and other parents of murdered and abused children at the rally - including Patty Wetterling of St. Joseph, Minn., and John Walsh, host of the television show "America's Most Wanted."

"We can't cure pedophilia," said Walsh, whose 6-year-old son Adam was kidnapped and murdered in Florida 24 years ago. "Don't we have the right to at least know where they are?"

Walsh said the bill "may be the most important piece of child protection legislation in the history of the United States."

Wetterling, whose son, Jacob, was abducted in 1989, is running as a Democrat against Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., who co-sponsored "Dru's Law" and appeared with her at the rally. "What I like about this is that we need to sharpen the tools" for law enforcement, said Wetterling "Minnesota's good, but many states have nothing at all."

The bill's sponsor is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who chairs the Judiciary Committee, which is expected to begin "markup" on the bill today. It should come to a vote this fall.

"We have a national crisis when it comes to sexual predators, particularly those targeting minors," he said. "These monsters are targeting our children, and we're not doing enough to protect them."

Mother's face

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said Walker and Wetterling help the cause.

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"Clearly, the most effective advocates are parents who have lost children at the hands of sexual predators," Pomeroy said.

Walker said after the rally that she is "a face to give a reminder."

"I just hope that we can get real nonpartisan support and have citizens be more and more aware, along with the victims who live with this on a day to day basis," she said.

But not everyone supports the bill.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the bill "is riddled with a host of new death penalty-eligible offenses and nearly three-dozen new mandatory minimum sentences ... . Such penalties are completely arbitrary, ineffective at reducing crime and a total waste of taxpayers' money."

"If we're truly serious about protecting our children from acts of sexual exploitation and violence," he added, "we have to invest in preventive solutions that really try to get at the root of the problem."

The House bill is H.R. 3132.

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