SD Legislature sends Native missing person bill to Governor

FILE - In this June 14, 2019, file photo, a photographer videos signs in memory of missing and...
FILE - In this June 14, 2019, file photo, a photographer videos signs in memory of missing and murdered indigenous women following a march to call for justice for missing and murdered indigenous women at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma in Concho, Okla. A key congressional committee is holding a hearing on a slate of legislation aimed at addressing the deaths and disappearances of Native American women. The bills before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs would require law enforcement to submit annual reports to Congress to give lawmakers a better handle on the number of cases. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 8:54 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA) - The South Dakota State Senate passed a bill 33 to 2 that would establish a liaison and office that would deal specifically with Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

The bill also passed the State House by a margin of 57 to 12.

HB 1199, which was drafted by State Rep. Peri Pourier (D-Pine Ridge) “shall establish the Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) to assist with and provide training for locating missing or murdered indigenous persons.”

Pourier cited the fact that over 70% of missing people in South Dakota right now are Native American when asked why she decided to bring the bill.

“Having a missing person specialist especially on this issue will create awareness, coordination and communication that we haven’t had before. What we are doing now is not working. The rates of missing and murdered indigenous people is the highest it has been ever since we started collecting data.”

Opponents of the bill argued largely against the fiscal implications for creating the office.

Proponents say that the issue is not just a South Dakota one.

“The tribal nations in South Dakota have pledged support to finding federal funding for this position,” said Pourier. “This also joins efforts across the state, its a national issue, tribes across the country are joining efforts with their states to fund positions like this.”

“I still see posters in my community of missing indigenous girls,” said Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission). “Some of them have been gone twenty years and we still don’t have any answers, and that is just unacceptable.”

If the bill is to be signed into law by Governor Kristi Noem, it would be the Attorney General’s responsibility to both establish and staff the new office. The Attorney General’s office has previously voiced a desire to better connect with the tribes on this issue.

“The Office of the Attorney General has never had personnel solely dedicated to the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons,” said Tim Bormann with the Attorney General’s office. “This would create that new position, adding a resource to work with our existing Missing Persons Clearinghouse website, state and tribal law enforcement, and the pre-existing federal Missing Indigenous Persons office in Rapid City... It’s an important job and one which, once staffed and funded, could accomplish some good work.”