Proponents of extending the statewide Missing Indigeonous Persons Task Force told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday the task force has more work to do to address the still escalating cases of missing and murdered indigenous people, most of whom are minors.

There were no public opponents to Senate Bill 4, which would continue funding the task force, which was started in 2019.

Joan Kresich spoke on behalf of the Northern Plains Resource Council, and provided context for why she says an inter-agency response is still necessary.

“Much of that violence and trafficking on reservations is committed by non-native people,” Kresich said. “In other words, this is our problem. We all need to play a part in addressing this crisis and working toward a solution.”

Census data shows that Indigenous people make up 6.7% of Montana’s population, but make up almost 26% of missing persons cases according to data from the Montana Department of Justice.

The bill would cost $10,000 per year, paid out of the state’s general fund, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Senator Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, was one of several committee members who expressed support for the bill.

“As we’re going through this testimony, I sit here and I think about my grandkids, and things like that, and I don’t know where I would be at,” Brown said. “This rips my heart up just even thinking about it.”

Committee Chair Keith Regier, a R-Kalispell, raised questions about whether the task force would help find non-Indigenous missing people.

Regeir said he hopes to have the committee vote on the bill by Friday.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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