Montana Governor Bullock said he would create a task force to address “this human rights crisis. Our work together is not yet done – but this is the first step in preventing future tragedies.”
Legislators in the U.S. state of Montana passed the third reading of Hanna’s Act or House Bill 21, an edict aimed at assigning specialists to specifically address missing Indigenous persons, with a 96-1 vote Tuesday.
“I wish I could tell someone (how I feel),” Democratic member of the Montana House of Representatives, Rae Peppers, said after the vote adding she felt pride. “I was nervous even though I knew it would pass. I just wanted that last vote so I could quit agonizing over it.”
Despite being only eight percent of the state, Native American women account for an alarming number of missing and murdered indigenous women and children - currently 23 of the 77 missing women or 30 percent.
Hanna’s Bill has been endured several setbacks, including funding cut and committee and House floor impasse.
“The missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic is a crisis in Montana and throughout the country, and it’s long past due elected officials do what is right and seek justice for Native women, their families, and their communities,” Governor Steve Bullock, who will next receive the Bill, communicated in a release about Hanna’s Act being passed.
Bullock added that he would create a task force to address “this human rights crisis. Our work together is not yet done – but this is the first step in preventing future tragedies.”
The Hanna’s Act specialist, who will be appointed from the Montana Department of Justice, will be charged to help law enforcement and families search for people who are missing.
The appointee will monitor content and records of the Justice Department’s national crime information center as well as other missing persons’ databases.
“At times, political games threatened to halt our progress on finding a much-needed solution. But the tireless work of Representatives Peppers and Stewart-Peregoy (Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy) and courageous Montanans ruled the day,” House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner said.
There are several other Native America-focused bills - HB 20, HB 54, Senate Bill 40 and SB 312 - in the works.
Peppers’ HB 20 requires law enforcement authorities to submit information regarding a missing child to the missing children information program, while her HB 54 calls on law enforcement in the state to accept all missing person reports without delay, unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Meanwhile, SB 40, sponsored by Senator Frank Smith, requires the office of public instruction to create an electronic directory photograph repository in which photographs may be used if a student is identified as a missing child.
HB 21 was made a companion bill to SB 312 by Senator Jason Small, which would use a competitive grant for a tribal college to develop the Looping in Native Communities network.
Republican Greg DeVries, who has previously made offensive remarks about Native Americans, was the only no vote.
“My friends in the Indian caucus, abortion is a plague on Indian culture and the genocide against your own children. One cannot value and celebrate a culture if that culture is murdering a future generation,” DeVries, who was forced to apologize in February, after making the remarking during an address while presenting a bill to ban abortion.
The Bill will require all missing person reports to be entered into the database of the national crime information center of the U.S. Department of Justice within two hours of receipt for people under 21 or eight hours of receipt for people 21 or older.
The legislation is named for Hanna Harris, who was missing for several days before being found murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013.