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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Amendments Leave MMIW Bill Toothless, Proponents Say

A sign from a Jan. 9, 2019 missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil in Missoula.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
A sign from a Jan. 9, 2019 missing and murdered Indigenous women vigil in Missoula.

Proponents of a proposed Montana bill meant to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women said Monday they now believe that it has been amended to become toothless.

As originally drafted, Hanna’s Act would have directed the state Department of Justice to hire a missing persons specialist to coordinate with local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement on cases. The idea being to improve response times by smoothing over jurisdictional issues.

But the bill has since been amended to say the department may hire the position, not shall. An appropriation of roughly $100,000 was also stricken.

Rep. Rae Peppers (D) - HD41
Credit Montana Legislature
Rep. Rae Peppers (D) - HD41

Lame Deer Rep. Rae Peppers said in a Senate Finance and Claims hearing Monday that essentially guts the legislation.

“There’s not much to it anymore, but I’m asking that possibly we find a way to get everything back in there. Because in reality you can’t put a price on life or death, and this is what it’s about,” she says.

Hanna’s Act was named for Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old Native woman who went missing on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in 2013 and was found murdered several days later.

Liz Bangerter with the state Department of Justice told committee members Monday her department could “suck it up” and find money internally to hire a missing persons specialist, but that it would be difficult to find strong candidates without permanent funding beyond the next two years.

Apart from funding, the committee briefly discussed incorporating a bill by Sen. Jason Small that would create a missing indigenous persons task force and establish a grant program for tribal colleges to create a related database.

Kevin is a UM Journalism graduate student and reporter for MTPR.
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