The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs advanced two bills this week that aim to beef up law enforcement’s response to the missing persons crisis in Indian Country.
For the second time, Savanna’s Act is now on its way to the U.S. Senate floor. That’s after the committee unanimously passed it and another public safety bill, the Not Invisible Act, out of committee Wednesday.
Montana Senators Republican Steve Daines and Democrat Jon Tester are both members of the committee and co-sponsors of the bill along with 24 others including Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar.
Before a roll call vote, Tester took the opportunity to advocate for Savanna’s Act, which would increase coordination among law enforcement agencies, expand what data is collected and clarify jurisdictional boundaries when it comes to missing and murdered indigenous people.
“I think there are a lot of issues that are impacting Native American people right now,” Tester said. “I don’t think there’s one more important than this one right now.”
Native people in Montana tend to go missing at rates that outpace their share of the state population. American Indians currently account for about a fourth of all missing persons cases listed on the state’s Clearinghouse while only accounting for about 7 percent of the state population, according to U.S. Census data from last July.
The Senate unanimously passed Savanna’s Act last year but it was blocked in the U.S. House of Representatives by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte who declined to bring it up for a vote.
The Senate committee passed the bill Wednesday with a few changes from its original language when it was re-introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, last January. A spokesperson from Tester’s office says the bill now mandates a consultation with urban Indian and tribal organizations to address the fact that many indigenous people go missing outside of Indian country and in cities.
The committee also passed the Not Invisible Act, which would create a new position at the Bureau of Indian Affairs to coordinate prevention efforts at the federal level.
Next, the committee will draft a report to file along with the bill. Included in that report will be cost estimates for both measures, which the Congressional Budget Office will prepare. After that, it will be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.