WASHINGTON >> It has been more than 10 years since her son, Billy, went missing, but Jan Smolinski is still holding out hope that federal lawmakers can do more for the families that missing persons across the country leave behind every day.
“This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about families of the missing and unidentified,” Smolinski said Monday.
The last three times “Billy’s Law” was introduced in Congress, it failed due to a lack of bipartisan support. That hopefully won’t be a problem this time, Smolinski said.
If the bill passes, it would provide funding to educate law enforcement about databases that are more accessible and comprehensive for the families of victims. It would also make reporting missing persons a faster and more efficient process, according to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who spoke about the bill in the Senate Monday afternoon.
Billy’s Law, also known as the “Help Find the Missing Act,” was inspired by the story of William “Billy” Smolinski Jr. of Waterbury, according to Murphy, the legislator who first introduced the bill. Billy Smolinski was reported missing in August 2004. He was 31 when he disappeared.
“Billy’s parents don’t think he’s alive anymore, but they aren’t sure,” Murphy said on the floor of the Senate in Washington Monday afternoon. “Billy’s body may be out there somewhere, but Billy’s family can’t find it because they don’t have access to the information.”
In an address to the Senate Monday, Murphy explained the true reason for pushing Billy’s Law for the fourth time: connecting family-accessible and law enforcement databases so all information can be shared in the search for missing persons in America.
In Billy Smolinski’s case, “(The Smolinskis) encountered obstacles after obstacle trying to participate in the investigation,” Murphy said. Families are invaluable to investigation efforts because they know all of the personal information about the victims and the circumstances surrounding their disappearance.
Murphy told the Senate that there are 90,000 missing persons cases at any given time in the United States.
“(Billy’s Law) strengthens the database system to help families find their lost loved ones,” Murphy said.
Jan Smolinski said Monday that when Billy was first reported missing his case profile indicated that he had simply walked off and would return on his own. Smolinski said when she finally learned about this, it was very disheartening.
Just because he was a 31-year-old male, did not mean he wasn’t in danger, she said.
Jan Smolinski added Monday that she fought for years to get all of the information about Billy in his case profile accurate and up to date, including dental records.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, created in 2009, gives families of missing persons access to the case profiles of their loved ones. They can also add information to the files. Billy’s Law will provide funding for law enforcement agencies to be trained in how to utilize this system in their searches and connect the information with their own database, the National Crime Information Center.
“Billy’s Law is the best way and the fair way to improve the system,” Smolinksi said.
Smolinski said that she likes being able to log on and check that Billy’s information is accurate and up-to-date any time she wants. And, she hopes that law enforcement will take just as much advantage of the system in the future if the funding is approved to educate them on the benefits of the database.
Police have said they believe Billy Smolinski was murdered. While there are suspects, no one has been charged with the offense.
Without bipartisan support in the past, Billy’s Law has fallen through the cracks in Washington. But, with the co-sponsorship of U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Connecticut U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5, the fourth time may the be charm.
“We ought to do all we can to help tens of thousands of American families like (the Smolinskis) who struggle to navigate a broken system,” Esty said in a press statement last week. “I am proud to join my colleagues in the House and Senate to introduce bipartisan legislation ... (that will) ensure grieving families have the necessary resources to seek justice for their loved ones.”
Billy’s Law will also connect coroners and medical examiners to the FBI’s databases for missing persons.
Laura Maloney, a spokesperson from Murphy’s office, said that the senator is encouraged by the bipartisan support this time around. Maloney said the bill passed the House on its first introduction, when Murhpy served in the House of Representatives, but was never voted on in the Senate. The bill met similar fates on the second and third tries.
As for a timeline, Maloney said it is hard to say how long it will take for the bill to come to a vote. Last Monday, the bill was moved on to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.