OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A bill to establish a protocol for how Washington law enforcement agencies handle reports of missing Native women received unanimous approval Tuesday by the State House of Representatives.
House Bill 1713, sponsored by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
The bill would establish two liaison positions within the State Patrol to work with family members when missing persons reports are filed. It would also create a task force that will bring together tribal representatives and law enforcement to address how such cases are handled.
“When someone was missing from their tribe, they needed help getting through the process. They were reaching out to tribal police, city and county officials, and the State Patrol — but there wasn’t a single source that could tell them what they could do,” Mosbrucker said in a news release.
“These tribal liaisons would reach out and provide that support.”
In addition, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs would be required to provide the State Patrol with government-to-government training.
Mosbrucker’s bill builds upon legislation she sponsored last year that brought the State Patrol together with federally recognized tribes, tribal law enforcement, urban Indian organizations and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to study the issue of missing Native American women in Washington.
It established a task force to gather data and recommend strategies to address the disappearances.
State Patrol Capt. Monica Alexander and Craig Bill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, led meetings in Yakima, Toppenish and throughout the state. Mosbrucker said there was enough information gathered for her to proceed with legislation to tackle ways to address the problem before getting the final report from Alexander in June.
“At one of the meetings, the Yakama Nation brought more than 300 people, and there were more than four hours of heartbreaking testimony. People were asking, ‘Where is my family member? My mom? My aunt? My sister?’ We learned enough from these meetings to do action items now,” Mosbrucker said.
No one knows exactly how many Native girls and women have gone missing on or near the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation. In 2009, the FBI concluded a two-year probe into the deaths of 16 women on the reservation from 1980 to 1993. An FBI spokesman said there may be as many as 32 unsolved cases on the reservation involving disappearances and deaths.
If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, House Bill 1713 will go into effect immediately to address what Mosbrucker sees as an emergency not just in Washington, but nationally. Typically, legislation that has been approved goes into effect 90 days after the session adjourns.
“If we wait until June, the Legislature is over and we will have to wait until next year,” Mosbrucker said earlier.