Congress Should Pass the Kelsey Smith Act Now

June 2, 2007, may not have much significance to most people. But for one Kansas family, the date always will be a reminder of the worst day of their lives.

That day started like any other Saturday. But by the end, Greg and Missey Smith would face the scenario every parent fears: their daughter Kelsey was dead. She was abducted in broad daylight, raped, strangled with her own belt and left under a pile of brush near a lake outside of Kansas City

It would be four days before the Smith’s would find out what happened to their daughter. For the Smiths and Kelsey’s friends, it would be four of the longest and most painful days they would have to endure.

Law enforcement requested the coordinates or a “ping” of Kelsey’s cell phone location late that Saturday night. It took Verizon four days to provide the location of Kelsey’s phone.

Her body was found 45 minutes later.

In the aftermath of Kelsey’s death, her parents and friends in the Kansas City area founded the Kelsey Smith Foundation. Calling themselves “Kelsey’s Army,” the group’s mission is “to honor and perpetuate the life of Kelsey Smith by empowering families, friends, and communities to proactively protect one of its most precious resources, namely its youth and young adults.” The foundation offers safety awareness seminars and is pushing to change laws across the country.

Greg Smith had served in law enforcement for 17 years and was a police officer at the time of his daughter’s abduction. He has since become one of the Kansas state senate’s most notable and highly respected members.

Smith and his wife are fighting tirelessly to pass the Kelsey Smith Act. The law would help police and telecommunication officials work together quickly in cases of emergency to locate the cell phones of missing persons. Since 2009, 23 states have passed the legislation, including Kansas, New Jersey, Nebraska, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Oregon. The Indiana legislature passed a version of the law in March.

kelsey smith act

Missey Smith, Kelsey’s mother, testifies to Members of Congress regarding the Kelsey Smith Act. | Photo: Office of Rep. Kevin Yoder

Now the Smiths want Congress to pass a federal version of Kelsey’s Law. The House of Representatives on May 23 held its first procedural vote on HR 4889 by U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.). The bill failed to win the necessary two-thirds vote it needed to move forward.

“When the dust cleared and the vote was taken last evening, the outcome was 229 – 158, with a majority of the House voting for the bill,” Yoder wrote on his Facebook page. “A majority of Republicans — 176 — voted in favor, but a majority of Democrats — 108 — voted against.”

“Rest assured, we will continue to work on this to move it through the House to honor Kelsey’s legacy, but more importantly to ensure we have the tools in place to save lives,” Yoder added.

The Smiths say they are more determined than ever to continue to fight for Kelsey’s law.

“We’re not giving up,” Missey Smith said. “Kelsey is the force behind this and it will happen. It may not be this year, but it will happen.”

Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the law would remove a phone company’s discretion in providing cell phone data to law enforcement. The ACLU also said the law would prevent cell phone customers from suing companies for releasing information without good reason.

The bill’s backers say privacy concerns are overblown, and note that the bill would protect the content of text messages and e-mails.

“When you use your land line to call 911, the company knows your location,” Greg Smith said. “This is someone who would dearly love to call 911 and say ‘Help me.’ Why not use this information?”

Since 2009, 23 states have passed the legislation and have already had many lives saved. Now it’s time for a federal version of the Kelsey Smith Act

The law has already saved multiple lives in the states where it has passed.

In one case, police in Kansas used a cell phone to track down a car that had been stolen with a baby still sleeping inside. Authorities found the car and the baby within 40 minutes. In Loudon County, Tennessee, within a month after the law took effect, police were able to use cell phone records to track down a suspected child rapist who had just snatched a child.

Smith’s killer was sentenced to a life without parole in lieu of the death penalty after agreeing to plead guilty to capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, rape and aggravated sodomy.

Kelsey Smith was a beautiful, bright-eyed young woman, full of life and loved by her family and friends. One of her classmates said she was “the bright crayon in the box.” Nine days before she was killed, Smith had graduated from Shawnee Mission West High School and had planned to attend Kansas State University.

We cannot afford to lose another Kelsey Smith. How much longer do we have to wait for Congress to pass this common-sense legislation?

Derek Kreifels is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and the President of the State Financial Officers Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter @dkreifels.