HELENA – A bill aimed at addressing the issue of missing and murdered Native Americans has been revived in the Montana Legislature.
House Bill 21, known as “Hanna’s Act,” failed on a tied 5-5 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. But committee chair Sen. Keith Regier, a Republican from Kalispell, said the committee reconsidered the bill Friday and approved it 8-2, after adding an amendment. The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
HB 21 originally said the Montana Department of Justice “shall” hire a missing persons specialist to work closely with local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies on missing person cases. The specialist would have been responsible for managing the state missing persons database and organizing training for law enforcement authorities on how to handle missing persons cases.
Republican Sen. Jennifer Fielder of Thompson Falls said the bill was amended to say that the department “may” hire the specialist, and to remove the position’s specific job description.
HB 21, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Rae Peppers of Lame Deer, passed the House unanimously last month. It’s named in honor of Hanna Harris, a Lame Deer woman found murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013. It is one of a number of bills introduced this session to address what advocates call an “epidemic” of missing and murdered indigenous people, especially women and children.