Bills Combating MMIW Epidemic Continue Through Legislature

Bills would allow all law authorities to accept missing persons reports and create other requirements for missing persons cases

By Molly Priddy

A number of bills aimed at battling the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women are continuing their path through the 2019 Legislature.

House Bill 20, which changes Montana law to require all law enforcement authorities in the state to submit information on a missing child, including cases of custodial interference, has already made it through both chambers and is waiting to be signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock.

House Bill 21 establishes Hanna’s Act, which authorizes the Department of Justice to get involved in all missing persons cases and requires the employment of a missing persons specialist. The bill originally called for $100,000 from the general fund to pay for the services, but the House cut it from the version it passed on to the Senate.

Hanna’s Act passed the House with a 99-0 vote before heading to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider it and either send it to the Senate floor for discussion or kill it in committee.

House Bill 54 would require all state, county and municipal law enforcement authorities to accept a missing persons report. The bill notes that it cannot compel federal and tribal authorities to follow it, but encourages them to do so.

This bill also passed through the House with unanimous support, 100-0, and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, sponsored all those bills, and said she’s happy about how the session has gone thus far in regard to the bills.

“I’m pleased to say that HB20 made it through,” Peppers said in an interview. “It’s going to be law.”

On some reservations, Indigenous women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average. Eighty-four percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, according to a study from the National Institute of Justice. The comparative average rate for white women is 71 percent.

Sen. Frank Smith, D-Poplar, sponsored Senate Bill 40, which allows the state Office of Public Instruction to create an opt-in electronic photography repository for students all over the state that the Department of Justice would be allowed to access for up-to-date photos of missing children.

SB 40 passed out of the Senate on a 44-6 vote, and is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

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