Surrounded at his Oval Office desk by family members of a Washington state 4-year-old who was killed in a car crash in 1996, Bush signed a measure requiring automakers to install shoulder belts in addition to lap straps in the middle rear seats of new vehicles starting in 2005. Dubbed "Anton's Law" in memory of Anton Skeen, the bill became law as the boy's sister, Geneva, and mother, Autumn, stood by with a large framed photograph of him.
Car manufacturers say they have already begun to add three-point belts in the center seat, considered the safest for children in an auto accident. Up to now, only a lap belt has been required. By 2008, when all new vehicles must have the belts, it will be easier for parents to put children who ride in booster seats in that safer middle seat. Booster seats - which ensure seat belts fit across a child's torso instead of neck and are designed to be secured with a three-point belt - are recommended for children over 40 pounds, until they are 4 feet 9 inches tall.
Later, behind closed doors, Bush also signed a measure allowing $2.3 billion over the next four years for rebuilding Afghanistan. The bill provides another $1 billion to expand peacekeeping forces outside the capital city of Kabul, where they have been limited so far. Congress still must approve the spending.
But the legislation singled out for the most attention, with broader media attendance and a bigger audience, was that establishing a new Internet domain reserved only for kid-safe content. The international body that governs domain names refused to create a suffix - like ".com" and ".org" - for child-appropriate content. So the measure establishes a new ".kids.us" Internet domain - which Bush said would "function must like the children's section of the library" - to be available within a year and overseen by the federal government.
A federal contractor will approve participants wanting to establish addresses with the new suffix and continuously monitor to be sure they are free of pornography and other material not suitable for youngsters under 13. "We must give our nation's children every opportunity to grow in knowledge without undermining their character," Bush said with family and child safety advocates, as well as a few children, looking on.
The sites will be prohibited from linking to outside Internet sites. To protect against Web predators, instant messaging and chat rooms will be banned unless certified as safe. Parents will be able to restrict their child's computer so it could only visit ".kids.us" addresses.
The legislation defines child-harming Web content if it depicts sex or nudity, is clearly sexual in nature or "lacks serious, literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors." An advisory board will establish specific criteria. Sites' participation will be voluntary in an attempt to avoid charges of censorship. But critics, including some civil liberties groups, question the government's ability to make decisions on what is safe and say the age range is too broad to be effective.
Lawmakers were spurred to action in part by the death of Christina Long, a sixth-grader from Danbury, Conn., whom police say was strangled by a man she met in an Internet chat room. Long's aunt and guardian said lawmakers meant well but didn't do enough. "The kids who get into trouble are kids who are 13 to 17," Shelley Riling said. "I think you have to set up something else for teens that is teen appropriate."