Torres ‘stunned’ by House failure to advance bill regarding missing and murdered Indigenous people bill

Today state Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, released the following comments in response to reports that House Democrats are preparing to kill her bill to implement recommendations from the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) task force.

Torres’ bill is part of the Legislature’s efforts to identify the root causes of the shockingly large and disproportionate number of Native Americans who have gone missing or been murdered in Washington.

“I am stunned and dismayed that a bill to help get at the root cause of crimes of violence against Indigenous people, especially women and children, is on the chopping block this late in the session. The bill to extend the work of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People task force passed out of the Senate unanimously, and the measure would undoubtedly have similar levels of support in the House of Representatives if it were allowed to come to the floor for a vote of the full chamber.

“Throughout the legislative process, there has been no testimony in opposition to the bill, while there has been a large outcry of support for it. On Valentine’s Day, I stood with lawmakers from both chambers and both parties, voicing support for domestic-violence legislation, including this bill.

“The Yarrow Project, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation all testified in favor of the bill.

“Despite this broad, bipartisan, and bicameral support, the bill has been stuck in the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee since it received a hearing on March 13. Now there are indications that the committee plans to allow the bill to die by denying it a vote prior to tomorrow’s deadline for House policy committees to act on Senate legislation. I am extremely disappointed by this obstruction.

“We owe it to the families of these victims to not only identify solutions to this ongoing problem, but to implement those solutions as quickly as possible. That’s what this bill is about.

“All session long, Democrats in both the House and Senate voiced support for Indigenous people and for this bill. Now, at the last minute, there are indications that they are willing to leave the fate of the task force’s recommendations – and in all likelihood, the very existence of the task force itself – up to budget negotiators. Yes, we may be able to get a budget proviso through to continue the funding for the task force, but why should these victims’ families have to sweat out the budget process and hope for the best? Why are the Indigenous people and their needs reportedly once again being put on the back burner?

“They deserve a clean, straight up-or-down vote. They deserve to know who stands with their community, supports justice for their families, and is truly committed to preventing more of their sisters from becoming forgotten victims, while Olympia turns a blind eye.

“Fortunately, there is still time for the majority Democrats in the House to do the right thing, and let this bill move forward. I will keep working with my colleagues in good faith to try to make that happen.”

Senate Bill 5477 would implement recommendations identified in the task force’s August 2022 interim report.

Under the Torres bill, the MMIWP task force would be extended through June 30, 2025. It would be required to develop additional recommendations and best practices for collaboration and coordination between law-enforcement agencies and social and health services, and to improve communication and transparency with family members in cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women and people.

The bill would also require law-enforcement agencies to enter a missing-person case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System if a missing person has not been found within 30 days of the report or if an investigating agency suspects criminal activity to be the cause of the missing person’s disappearance.

The deadline for House policy committees to approve Senate bills is tomorrow, March 29.