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FARMINGTON — A bill to create a task force to examine the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women received support from the New Mexico Senate on Thursday.

State senators voted 40-0 in favor of House Bill 278. It goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for consideration. She has until April 5 to sign it.

The task force's membership would include members of the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Mescalero Apache Tribe and from one of the 19 pueblos, in addition to personnel from state departments and public safety employees.

Task force members would conduct a study to determine how to enhance state resources for reporting and identifying victims.

They would also collaborate with tribal law enforcement agencies to identify barriers when addressing such cases, and create partnerships to improve the reporting and investigative process.

House Democrats Andrea Romero, Derrick Lente, Melanie Stansbury and D. Wonda Johnson sponsored the bill. It cleared the House, 62-0, on March 8.

The lawmakers proposed the measure in response to a report last year by the Urban Indian Health Institute that found limited data existed for cases involving missing or murdered Native American women in 71 cities across the country.

According to the UIHI report, there were 5,712 cases of missing Native American and Alaska Native women and girls made to the National Crime Information Center as of 2016 but only 116 cases are listed in the missing persons database managed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The bill received support from leaders of the Navajo Nation, including tribal president Jonathan Nez. The Navajo Nation Council's Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee issued its support on Feb. 28.

Legislators in Arizona are also considering a measure that focuses on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The Arizona House of Representatives supported House Bill 2570 on March 11 to establish a committee to conduct a study to determine how the state can reduce and end violence against Indigenous women and girls.

The legislation awaits consideration by the Arizona Senate.

In Utah, a resolution to designate May 5 as "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and LGBT+ Awareness Day" got stuck in the legislative process before the general session ended Thursday.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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