A bill that seeks to aid in missing persons investigations in Montana has once again undergone significant changes as it makes its way through the state Legislature.
House Bill 21, known as Hanna’s Act, made it through the Senate Finance and Claims Committee this week. This came after the bill was tabled in a different committee, but then brought back to life and passed after most of the bill’s language was gutted.
Hanna’s Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved in all missing persons cases in Montana and creates the position of a missing persons specialist with the state. The original version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, required that the state create this job and fund it with $100,000.
The state House cut the funding before passing the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which removed the language requiring the specialist position to be created and instead said the state was “allowed” to create the job. It also removed the specific duties for the job as listed in the original version.
However, when the bill came up for a full vote in the Senate, it was referred back to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, which changed most of the language back to the original version of the bill, mandating that the state create the position, listing its duties, and providing funding through the Department of Justice.
According to the current version of the bill, the DOJ is now authorized to spend $205,000 from the state special revenue account to fund the position and perform the services required, and that the Legislature intends for this to be considered part of the ongoing base for appropriations in 2021.
The committee also tied the bill to Senate Bill 312, which creates a grant program for tribal colleges to build a database of missing and murdered Indigenous people, many of them women.
Hanna’s Act is named for Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who went missing and was murdered in 2013.