"Aimee's Law," named for Brookhaven murder victim Aimee Willard, took a big step forward yesterday, gaining U.S. Senate approval as an amendment to the Juvenile Justice bill. Aimee's Law seeks to punish states that release convicted murderers, rapists or child molesters if those felons later go on to commit another violent crime. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., offered Aimee's Law as an amendment to the Juvenile Justice bill that's being debated by lawmakers. The amendment was approved by an 81-17 vote. "We cannot stand by and allow violent criminals back into our communities to threaten the lives of our children," Santorum said. "My one regret is that this provision was not law before tragedy struck the Willard family." Willard was a 22-year-old college student when she was kidnapped, raped and murdered in June 1996. The man later sentenced to death for that crime, Arthur Bomar, had been paroled from Nevada after a murder conviction there. Under Aimee's Law, a state that releases a violent felon would have to pay the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment costs of another state if that convict commits another violent act. It would also require the state that released the criminal to pay as much as $100,000 to the victims of the second attack or to their families. Willard's mother, Gail, is a strong supporter of the proposal. "This is very encouraging," Willard said of yesterday's Senate vote, "especially since it's only been two months since Sen. Santorum stood with me outside the courthouse to introduce the legislation." Willard believes Aimee's Law could prevent what happened to her daughter from happening to others. "That's why we're pushing this so hard," she said. "Aimee is already dead. We're doing this for everyone else." The $5 billion, wide-ranging Juvenile Justice bill remains the subject of intense debate in the Senate. Even if it's defeated in its present form, however, Willard thinks Aimee's Law could survive on its own because of the bipartisan support evident in yesterday's vote.