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A photo of Henny Scott

A photo of Henny Scott, a 14-year-old freshman at Lame Deer High School who was found dead in December, sits in the hearing room as testimony is given for Hanna's Act, which authorizes the state Department of Justice to assist with all missing persons investigations.

After an amendment restored the requirement that the Department of Justice create a missing persons specialist position and put back funding for the job, a Senate committee Tuesday passed Hanna's Act.

Hanna's Act is named after a Native woman who was missing for several days before being found dead in 2013 on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. The missing persons specialist in the bill is meant to help better coordinate law enforcement efforts to make sure searches for missing people — especially American Indians — start as quickly as possible. 

The amendment Tuesday also ties the bill's fate to another piece of legislation from Sen. Jason Small, a Republican from Busby.

Small's bill is also aimed at the problem of missing and murdered Native women, who are affected in far disproportionate numbers. It would create a grant program for tribal colleges to build a database of missing Native people.

Hanna's Act passed the House unanimously in March, but has faced struggles in the Senate. First it was tabled in a committee and then revived, but with the requirement of creating the missing person specialist and any money to pay for the position removed.

Now the bill moves back to the full Senate. If it gets approval there, it goes to the House, which will consider the amendments added by the Senate.

Small's bill was tabled by the House Judiciary committee last week. Small said Tuesday morning he expects that committee to reconsider it sometime soon.

If Small's bill does not pass, Hanna's Act is void.

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"What we've got going now is we've intertwined the two together," Small said Tuesday. "We had two bills that weren't necessarily funded so now we've got everything put together. And that should help. I don't know why they stripped all that."

Before Tuesday's amendment, several legislators and lobbyists said Hanna's Act "really doesn't do anything" because of stripped funding and optional position.

The amendment Tuesday now requires the Department of Justice create the position. It also dedicates $200,000 to funding to pay for it. That money comes from an account that collects fees charged for the dissemination of criminal history record record information.

An expected amendment to Small's bill would also put $25,000 in state money to create the grant program that tribes could match with their own funding.

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