Lawmakers pass bill to fund community-led missing persons responders
HELENA-- The Montana Legislature has passed a bill that would put almost $61,000 of the state’s money toward training community-led teams to respond as quickly as possible to missing persons cases. The bill cleared a final vote in the House 91-to-1 on Tuesday.
Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, is the sponsor of House Bill 18. The State-Tribal Government Committee requested the bill and Running Wolf, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, said the program would be crucial to help people find their loved ones during the first and most important hours of a disappearance.
Running Wolf spoke about the need for the bill at a Senate Judiciary hearing on January 20th.
“And sometimes volunteers that are out there may not have all the assets or resources to find them. And this grant program can work at the local level to make that a better place for all of us and help find the missing that are gone,” Running Wolf said.
At that hearing, friends, family and neighbors who helped search for missing people filled four rows of the hearing room. They told stories of searching for missing people and not being ready for what they might find.
A similar version of this bill died last legislative session. At the time there was a comparable program offered nationally, which is not offered anymore.
The bill has received unanimous support from both sides of the aisle. The Senate proposed an amendment that would require county sheriffs be notified of the program and the bill as amended passed the House.
According to the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Reporting Portal created by the Blackfeet Community College, Indigenous people in Montana are four times as likely to go missing. According to the Department of Justice’s Missing Persons Database there are currently 41 missing Indigenous people from Montana, 20 of which have been missing more than a year. More than a third of those missing are under the age of 18.
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.