Bill would support local efforts to find missing Montanans
Lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would provide $61,000 of the state’s money to pay for a grant program for training local, community-led teams to help coordinate searches for missing persons.
Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and is the sponsor of House Bill 18, which was requested by the State-Tribal Government Committee.
“This bill will forge stronger connections between the local communities, public safety agencies," Running Wolf said. "And building this connection will bring perpetrators to justice by making sure that well-meaning but untrained volunteers don't unintentionally undermine law enforcement efforts by not adequately being trained."
A similar version of the bill died in the Senate last session over concerns about its cost. Running Wolf said at the bill’s hearing in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the bill could still help communities most affected by missing persons cases with outside revenue if it does not get state funding.
A similar bill was passed by the House last legislative session as House Bill 36 before it was tabled in the Senate over concerns about cost. At the time, there was a national program providing comparable training that’s no longer available. Now, supporters of the bill say the community need for a program like the missing persons response team training program is larger than it was last session.
Dana Toole, the Bureau Chief of the Special Services Bureau at the Department of Justice, said the new bill offers flexibility with the funding.
“Right now, the bill would allow for additional funding in form of donation and grants, which is great because not all state funding pots of money allow for that," Toole said. "So this sets up the ability for the Department of Justice or for an outside entity to actually look for additional funding."
The hearing for HB 18 was one of the first for legislators as they start the 90-day session. The committee didn't take immediate action on the bill.
Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.