The fate of two bills that could change the way Montana investigates and studies missing persons, especially in cases involving indigenous people, have been chained together in the political shuffle of the legislative session.
Senate lawmakers Tuesday restored previously cut funding for the bill known as Hanna’s Act, named for a woman murdered in 2013 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
House Bill 21 would require the Department of Justice to hire a specialist to investigate all cases of missing persons in the state.
A Senate Finance and Claims committee amended the bill Tuesday to including funding for that position, but also linked it to another bill that could determine the future of Hanna’s Act.
Rep. Sharon Stewart Peregoy is a Democrat from Crow Agency.
"Politics is involved. There are some things that are going around, discussions, and probably negotiations, and unfortunately these two bills are caught up in that."
Stewart Peregory chaired the State-Tribal Relations Interim Committee that recommended the 2019 Legislature pass Hanna’s Act.
However, it now cannot become law without Senate Bill 312, which would create a missing indigenous persons task force and fund the creation of a database to track reports of missing indigenous people.
Stewart Peregoy says each of the bills has merit, and declined to speculate about why the bills were joined.
Senate Bill 312, Hanna’s Act’s new companion, is currently tabled in the House Judiciary Committee. It passed out of the Senate late last month with bipartisan approval.
Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, a Republican from Stevensville, says compared to Senate Bill 312, Hanna’s Act doesn’t really do anything, and it wasn’t getting enough political support.
"It didn’t seem to be getting the traction it needed to be getting. And in my opinion it’s [Senate Bill 312] the bill that does something."
Both Thomas and Stewart Peregoy expect Senate Bill 312 to be revived in the House after being tied to Hanna’s Act. Tuesday's action allows Hanna’s Act to advance to the Senate floor.