House committee recommends passage of bill extending MMIW task force

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Taskforce has made progress this year gathering data and meeting with law enforcement and community members, but Stephanie Salazar, general counsel for the Indian Affairs Department, says more work is needed.

"We have accomplished much in our first year of work, but there is still much to do," Salazar said during a House committee meeting on Feb. 8.

House Bill 208, the  Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, aims to extend funding for the taskforce and expand on its work. It received unanimous support from the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on Feb. 8 with a vote of eight in favor and one excused. 

More:New Mexico legislators introduce bills addressing electric utility industry, emissions

Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, is sponsoring the bill along with Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, and Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-Albuquerque. According to the fiscal impact report, the legislation would provide $50,000 for fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022 to pay the expenses of the task force, which was established by the Legislature in 2019.

Andrea Romero

"As we know this has been a tragic situation, not only in our state, but across the United States," Romero said.

The audience members, including more than 40 people, said they were all in favor of the bill.

Salazar said if the legislation is passed and becomes law, the taskforce intends to bring policy recommendations and potential draft legislation to the interim committees during the summer. 

The task force released a report in December. According to the report, about half of the missing persons cases the Farmington Police Department investigated between 2014 and 2019 were Native Americans and 66% of those people were women.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e

A message is shared during a walk on May 23, 2019 in Shiprock to increase awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. A bill before the Legislature would continue the work of the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force.

There were 17 homicides between 2014 and 2019 in Farmington, according to the report. Of those cases, 14 of them were solved and 43% of the solved cases involved Native American victims. All three of the unsolved cases are Native American men.

Meanwhile, in Gallup, 76% of missing people were Native American and 87% of the homicide cases involved a Native American victim.

More:Investigators sort through conflicting stories about murder of Richard Tsosie

Not every law enforcement agency provided the task force with information about the number of missing and murdered Native Americans during that time period. Some said the request was too broad and burdensome while others said they did not collect data based on race and ethnicity, according to Salazar.

If House Bill 208 does not pass, the task force will disband at the end of this fiscal year.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.