The state Senate Judiciary committee reversed itself Friday and moved to advance House Bill 21, more commonly known as Hanna’s Act, to the Senate floor.
A tie vote of 5-5 tabled the bill in committee Monday, one month after the bill passed the House on a 99-0 vote. Friday’s motion to blast the bill out of committee followed an amendment to the bill from Sen. Jennifer Fielder, a Republican from Thompson Falls. Fielder was one of the five committee members who voted to table the bill Monday.
If passed, the bill would create a missing persons specialist within the state Department of Justice to assist with the investigation of all missing persons cases. An appropriation of $100,000 to pay for the position was stripped from the bill before it the committee moved to table it Monday.
The bill was named for Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old Native woman who was missing for several days before she was found murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in July 2013. Harris' mother, Melinda Harris Limberhand, traveled to Helena to speak in support of the bill in January.
The bill, as considered Monday, stated that the Department of Justice “shall employ a missing persons specialist responsible for working closely with 19 local, state, federal, and tribal law enforcement authorities on missing persons cases.” Fielder’s amendment changes that portion to state that the department “may” employ such a specialist, and removes the specialist’s job description from statute.
Fielder said her amendment came about after conferring with bill sponsor Rep. Rae Peppers, a Democrat from the Northern Cheyenne community of Lame Deer; as well as the State-Tribal Relations committee and the state Department of Justice.
Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, will carry the bill on the Senate floor.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that the bill originated in the state Senate rather than the state House.
Lee Enterprises reporter Holly Michels contributed to this story.