Senate Passes Carjacking Bill, Sends It to Bush

From Associated Press

The Senate passed legislation Thursday night making armed carjackings a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison and sent it to President Bush.

Rushing to adjourn, the Senate on a voice vote approved the House-passed bill as the chief anti-crime measure to emerge from the 102nd Congress because Democrats and Bush could not agree on broader crime legislation.

White House officials indicated earlier this week that Bush would sign the carjacking bill after key House lawmakers worked out a compromise over an auto parts identification program initially opposed by the auto industry.

Shortly after the measure was approved, the Senate formally adjourned for the year. Final House adjournment is scheduled for today, although most lawmakers left the capital earlier in the week.

The legislation started out primarily as a bill to curb the rising tide of auto thefts. It became a vehicle to attack the growing phenomenon of carjackings--thieves approaching motorists on ramps, in parking lots or at stoplights, forcing them out of their vehicles and then driving off--after the tragic death of a Maryland woman last month.

Pam Basu was dragged for 1 1/2 miles because her arm was stuck in the seat belt when thieves forced her from her car at a stop sign while she was taking her daughter to school. The thieves stopped later to put the child in her car seat out on the road.

"When it comes to stealing cars, it's no longer for the Saturday night joy ride," said the bill's chief author, Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "It's men armed with screwdrivers, crowbars and guns terrorizing American motorists."

Armed hijackings resulting in a death would be punishable by up to life imprisonment.

The outcry over carjackings had overshadowed a behind-the-scenes fight between domestic auto manufacturers and Schumer over provisions in the bill to make them stamp vehicle identification numbers on 14 major parts in each car coming off assembly lines.

In response to industry arguments that the measure would add $5 to $7 to the cost of each car, the House Energy and Commerce Committee amended Schumer's bill to exempt most American models from the requirement.

Last weekend, however, Schumer and the committee's chairman, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), reached a compromise to phase in the parts identification for most of the 175 domestic models over the next five years. The bill applies equally to foreign models.

Under the bill, repair shops selling or installing used parts on a car would be required to call a toll-free number and check the identification numbers on the parts against an FBI database of stolen vehicle numbers.

The bill also would make owning or operating so-called chop shops, which specialize in dismantling stolen autos for their parts, a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

In another late action, the Senate gave final congressional approval to legislation that would require the government to provide health examinations to Operation Desert Storm veterans. The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the examinations. It also would finance a National Academy of Sciences review of existing scientific evidence on the health problems of Persian Gulf veterans.

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