The governor, joined by the Montana American Indian Caucus, signed a suite of bills into law that address reporting and investigating the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Montana.
On May 23, Gov. Steve Bullock held a ceremonial bill signing for the five new laws passed during the most recent legislative session, noting that the passage of these bills was a bipartisan effort.
“The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a moral and humanitarian crisis. Just one Montanan missing impacts countless others, including families, loved ones and entire communities. No family should have to suffer this pain,” Bullock said. “It’s great we brought Democrats and Republicans together to make sure every Montana family knows they are valued equally and that we won’t rest when our sons and daughters are missing.”
Rep. Rae Peppers, D-Lame Deer, sponsored several of the bills and said their passage into law sends a message of strength.
“[The new laws] send a clear message that the Montana State Legislature will not tolerate the missing, murder and trafficking of our people,” Peppers said. “This was a bipartisan effort within the Legislative House that supported it wholeheartedly and through the support of the Governor’s Office, the Department of Justice, State Staff, advocates, the people of Montana and most importantly our Tribes.”
• House Bill 20: Revises the law so that all law enforcement authorities in the state are mandated to submit information on a missing child, including in cases when law enforcement believes custodial interference is involved. Prior law only allowed the submission of a missing child report to be filed by the law enforcement authority in the county where the child went missing.
• House Bill 21, Hanna’s Act: Authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice’s involvement in the investigation of all missing persons cases and requires the employment of a missing persons specialist. The duties of said specialist are outlined, and the state DOJ is authorized to spend $205,000 with future appropriations to be considered part of the ongoing base in future sessions.
• House Bill 54: Revises laws to require all law enforcement authorities in the state to accept a missing persons report.
• Senate Bill 40: Requires the Office of Public Instruction to create a digital photograph repository of students to only be used if a student is identified as a missing child. Parents and guardians can opt in to participate.
• Senate Bill 312: Creates the Looping In Native Communities (LINC) program and the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force creates a missing Indigenous persons task force that includes a representative from each tribal government on Montana’s seven reservations and the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced plans to appoint the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force and said his agency would soon implement the legislation addressing missing and murdered Indigenous people in Montana.
“Over the past two years, my office worked closely with the State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee on measures to address missing Indigenous persons in Montana,” Fox said. “Four of those bills passed, and another, the LINC Act, is now law also. We are moving forward with the tasks the Legislature set before us, including appointing members to a Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, and hiring a Missing Persons Specialist within the Montana Department of Justice.”
Fox also announced a joint training for law enforcement and the public on issues related to missing persons cases across the state, particularly those involving Native American people.
The June 12 training provides instructions for law enforcement in one session on accepting missing persons reports, using alerts and advisories, and conducting investigations, while the general public can learn in a separate session how to report a missing person, learn about the missing persons databases and alert systems, and discuss other resources.
The training is free. Online registration is available at www.dojmt.gov/mpt. POST credits for law enforcement officers are pending. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the DOJ’s Office of Victim Services at 1-800-498-6455 or (406) 444-3653.