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Lawmakers Advance Bills Addressing Missing And Murdered Indigenous People

Over 100 paper bag luminaries lined the back of a conference room in Pablo, MT Aug. 27, 2019. The luminaries represent missing and murdered indigenous Montana women dating back to the early 1900s.
Aaron Bolton
/
Montana Public Radio
Over 100 paper bag luminaries lined the back of a conference room in Pablo, MT Aug. 27, 2019. The luminaries represent missing and murdered indigenous Montana women dating back to the early 1900s.

Three bills intended to address the missing and murdered Indigenous person crisis cleared another step in the Montana Legislature Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Jason Small of Busby said the policies build upon landmark efforts from the 2019 legislative session, when lawmakers created the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force to tackle law enforcement jurisdictional issues and strengthen communication between agencies.

“As the process has gone along through this session, we’ve refined a lot of what’s happened and we’ve improved upon what we already had existing," Small said.

Native people are four times more likely to go missing than whites, according to the Montana Department of Justice.

House Bill 98 would extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force until 2023 and reauthorize a grant used to maintain a missing persons database. Meanwhile, House Bill 35 would create a commission to review missing Indigenous person cold cases and analyze potential areas of law enforcement improvement.

More than three quarters of Senate lawmakers gave initial approval to both proposals Wednesday, along with a third, House Bill 36, that would fund a grant program to train community-based missing persons response teams.

Democratic Sen. Susan Webber of Browning said the teams will coordinate search efforts often conducted in collaboration with non-law enforcement personnel.

“A lot of times it’s the families that look for the missing person. So they don’t have any of the training," Webber said.

All three bills need to pass a final Senate vote before heading to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who signaled support during his State of the State speech in January.

Another bill extending the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force already cleared the Legislature. In an earlier interview, Sen. Small said he carried the proposal in case the more expansive HB 98 got voted down.