A Montana state Senate panel decided on Monday that it will not act to help tackle the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s crisis.
The state’s Senate Judiciary Committee split in a 5-5 vote on H.B. 21—known as “Hanna’s Act”—officially defeating after the bill soared through the House with a 99-0 vote in February. In its initial form, the legislation would have allotted $100,000 to create the position of a missing persons specialist, who would serve as the central coordinator in Montana’s Department of Justice for tribal and local law enforcement divisions working on MMIW cases.
The bill was named after 21-year-old Hanna Harris, a mother of a 10-month-old infant and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who was found murdered on her reservation in 2013. By the time her body was found, investigators were unable to determine a cause of death due to decomposition. In 2015, Eugenia Ann Rowland was sentenced to 22 years in prison for murder, admitting in court that she and her husband, Garret Sidney Wadda, killed Harris. In the time between when Harris went missing and when her body was found, Harris’ family criticized law enforcement for their slow response.
Hanna’s Act was part of a five-bill package that was introduced this session by state Rep. Rae Peppers, a member of the Crow Tribe. Peppers pushed the bill through the House and assisted in organizing a January witness session for the chamber, in which 30 people, including Harris’ mother and family members of Henny Scott—another missing Northern Cheyenne girl that was found dead in December—spoke about the need for the legislation. The House Judiciary Committee ultimately stripped the $100,000 funding for the position, but it then cleared the bill, and the full body unanimously approved it in February.
It was in the Senate Judiciary Committee that Hanna’s Act was brought to a halt following further arguments over funding. One of the bill’s main opponents was Republican state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, who said in a statement prior to her vote against the bill that she didn’t believe the crisis could be solved with another government position. Fielder followed that thought with an absurdly ahistorical line of thinking that ignores the vast number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in urban areas, saying that the tribes should simply pay for the crisis themselves.
“I’m glad to see, particularly the Indian community, rallying around and trying to get something done,” Fielder said, per the Independent Review. “I believe the tribal governments have extensive resources and I’d like to see some participation from those tribal governments in financing a position like this rather than just ask the state to do it. Those governments have quite extensive resources available to them through the federal government.”
Gov. Steve Bullock said in an email to the Great Falls Tribune that he was “deeply disappointed that some members of the Legislature are failing to address a human rights crisis in Montana.”