U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Thursday introduced the bipartisan Help Find the Missing Act or "Billy's Law." This legislation would close loopholes in America's missing persons systems by streamlining the missing persons reporting process and ensuring that law enforcement databases are more accessible and comprehensive.
Billy's Law was originally introduced in 2009 by then-Congressman Chris Murphy. The bill was inspired by Janice Smolinski of Cheshire, Connecticut, after her 31-year-old son Billy went missing from Waterbury, Connecticut. While working with law enforcement to locate her missing son, Smolinski faced countless systemic challenges. Billy's Law was introduced to address those challenges and help ensure that the tens of thousands of American families whose loved ones go missing each year do not experience the same hurdles faced by the Smolinskis.
"There are thousands of families like the Smolinskis who are forced to endure the crushing uncertainty of a missing loved one and then end up victimized all over again by a missing persons system that doesn't allow families to participate in the search for their family member. There's no excuse for the inefficiencies of the current process, which won't allow databases to communicate with each other. Billy's Law is a simple, commonsense fix that I first introduced in the House in 2009, and I won't stop pushing until we get it done," said Murphy.
"Nobody should ever have to wonder about the fate of their missing child or loved one, but tragically, this is a reality for far too many," said Cornyn. "By improving the missing persons reporting process and improving coordination, this legislation ensures that local law enforcement can work swiftly and comprehensively to deliver justice to the families and friends of the missing."
"Our bipartisan measure will bolster resources for law enforcement officials as they help families with the search for missing loved ones. Patchwork reporting and loopholes in our national databases have impeded efforts to provide families with critical information. With a streamlined reporting process and increased funding, Billy's Law will strengthen future searches and help bring closure to countless families," said Blumenthal.
"This legislation is about ensuring we have a missing persons reporting system that works, so that law enforcement and families can locate and find missing persons," said Hoeven. "This is a common-sense fix. Updating and streamlining these databases will be a helpful improvement for officers, families and communities searching for their loved ones."
"The reintroduction of Billy's Law gives hope and encouragement during times of heartache and not knowing. Loved ones spend every day desperately searching for answers as to where their loved ones are and to possibly get the resolution needed. NamUs is a very important tool utilized by law enforcement, coroners, and medical examiners to help bring loved ones home or identify the unidentified. This legislation would relieve stress during these hard days and we are grateful to Senator Murphy for the attention and reintroduction of this much needed bill," said Janice Smolinski.
"The only thing worse than losing a child, is losing your child and not bringing them home. We, as parents of a child who was missing and left murdered out in the wilderness, believe everyone deserves the same resources to help find their missing loved one. Tara, Niki, Jim and I have met and spoken with many leaders on missing persons cases and this bill in our opinion is long overdue. The Help Find The Missing Act gives two enormously important databases the ability to communicate vital info on finding everyone's missing family and friends as well as giving every state the connectivity to assist in reuniting your loved ones and bring them home faster," said Joe Petito, father of Gabby Petito.
Specifically, the Help Find the Missing Act would:
Authorize and ensure funding for the National Missing Persons and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), created in 2007 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide a missing persons/unidentified database to which the public can contribute and access;
Connect NamUs with the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) in order to create more comprehensive missing persons and unidentified remains databases and streamlining the reporting process for local law enforcement;
Expand current law by requiring missing children be reported to NamUs (they already must be reported to NCIC);
Create an incentive grants program to help states, local law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners report missing persons and unidentified remains to NCIC and NamUs;
Require DOJ to issue guidelines and best practices on handling missing persons and unidentified remains cases in order to empower law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners to help find the missing.