Two House lawmakers from fire-struck California won approval this week for legislation to set up a national registry to track convicted arsonists.
The bill, which was passed by voice vote, requires convicted arsonists to report to authorities on where they live or attend school, and sets up a national database developed by the attorney general to track arsonists and make information available to local law enforcement officials.
It “lets the convicted arsonists know they can’t hide from law enforcement for the purpose of committing another act of arson,” said California Democrat Adam Schiff, who sponsored the bill with Republican Mary Bono. Arson was blamed for the Esperanza Fire that ravaged parts of Bono’s district in southeast California last year, killing five firefighters.
The U.S. Fire Administration says arsonists set 31,000 structure fires in 2006, killing 305 people and causing $755 million in property damage. One of the more difficult crimes to investigate, less than 20 percent of arson offenses result in arrest and conviction.
The information on the registry will be available only to law enforcement, not the general public. But one lawmaker, Judiciary Committee member Bobby Scott, D-Va., expressed concern that registering juveniles who commit acts of arson might subject them to law enforcement targeting and would not contribute to their rehabilitation.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
The bill is H.R. 1759.
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