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FARMINGTON — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed a bill to develop a task force to investigate the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women in New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham signed House bill 278 on March 28, according to her office.

The task force, a first-of-its-kind for the state, will assess and determine how to increase state resources for reporting and identifying victims.

Its membership will consist of state and federal officials, tribal members and advocates. They will collaborate with tribal law enforcement agencies to identify barriers to address the problem and to create partnerships to improve reporting victims and for investigating cases.

They will report recommendations to the appropriate interim legislative committee and to the governor by November 2020.

Gaps in jurisdiction and reporting, as well as lack of coordination among law enforcement and other issues have contributed to such cases in the state, according to the legislation's fiscal impact report.

A federal proposal last year to increase coordination among law enforcement and improve data collection for cases involving missing and murdered indigenous people stated that, on some reservations, Native American women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average.

Lujan Grisham will appoint seven out of the 11 task force members, but administrative support will be coordinated through the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.

Department Secretary Lynn Trujillo, or a designee, will serve as the chairperson.

Trujillo said in a statement the department is starting to develop the planning process for creating the task force.

"As the Secretary of Indian Affairs, I am committed to leading this task force to give voice to our missing and murdered indigenous women," she said.

Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, introduced the bill in January. It passed the House and Senate last month.

"I'm thrilled," Romero said after learning of the governor's approval.

The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women is an Albuquerque-based organization whose mission is to end violence against native women and children by advocating for social change in communities.

The organization hopes task force members will work diligently toward finding solutions that strengthen city, state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies through collaborated response.

"The ability to track and report data more accurately means more accountability on behalf of missing and murdered indigenous people. Because the task force includes representatives from within tribal communities, we also hope this generates an authentic conversation around the root cause of this issue," the organization stated.

It also called the task force a positive step for seeking justice for victims, families and communities.

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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