Gov. Steve Bullock signed Hanna’s Act into law Friday, authorizing and providing funding for the state Department of Justice to hire a missing persons specialist to help quickly coordinate searches for missing Montanans — especially Native Americans.
The bill is named for Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old woman who went missing on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in July 2013 and was found murdered soon after. Rep. Rae Peppers, a Democrat representing Harris's hometown of Lame Deer, carried the bill for the State-Tribal Relations Committee.
After failing in a Senate committee in March, the bill had a requirement that the specialist be hired stripped before being revived and reaching third reading on the Senate floor. It was then pulled back to a Senate committee, which restored the full-time position and funding to the bill April 9. The bill cleared the Legislature two weeks later.
Hanna’s Act was one of 24 bills Bullock signed into law Friday, and one of two carried by Peppers. The other, House Bill 54, requires Montana law enforcement to accept reports of missing persons “without delay” and compile a “complete and accurate record of information” for cases that go unsolved after 30 days, including a photograph of the missing person. Reports of missing persons younger than 21 must also be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database within two hours.
In addition to Peppers's bills, Bullock signed another bill requested by the State-Tribal Relations Committee on Thursday. Senate Bill 40, carried by Sen. Frank Smith, D-Poplar, requires the state Office of Public Instruction to maintain a database of photographs of Montana schoolchildren, though their parents can decide to opt out. The Missing Persons Clearinghouse at the state Department of Justice would have “continuous” access to the database.
Montana's attorney general called the new law an important step forward in solving missing persons cases.