WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), together with U.S. Congressmen Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), introduced the bipartisan “Billy’s Law”, otherwise known as the Help Find the Missing Act. The legislation will close loopholes in America’s missing persons systems by streamlining the missing persons reporting process and ensuring that law enforcement databases are more accessible and comprehensive. U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are cosponsors of the legislation.
Billy's Law was originally introduced in 2009 by then-Congressman Chris Murphy. The bill was inspired by Janice Smolinski of Cheshire, Connecticut, after her 31-year-old son Billy went missing from Waterbury, Connecticut. While working with law enforcement to locate her missing son, Smolinski faced countless systemic challenges. Billy's Law was introduced to address those challenges and help ensure that the tens of thousands of American families whose loved ones go missing each year do not experience the same hurdles faced by the Smolinskis.
Murphy said, “The Smolinskis and thousands of other families across America wake up every morning with the crippling uncertainty about the fate of their loved one. They are forced to endure intolerable inefficiencies as they navigate our missing persons systems in search of those they love. These families shouldn't be victimized twice - once by the disappearance of their family member and again by a broken missing persons system. This is the fourth time I’ve introduced Billy’s Law, and I won’t stop fighting until it becomes law.”
“Experiences endured by the families of Billy Smolinski and Dru Sjodin in North Dakota highlight for all of us the heartache of dealing with a missing loved one,” Hoeven said. “This bill streamlines the reporting process and makes the technology more accessible to help reduce the stress and uncertainty for families going through the ordeal of trying to find a family member.”
“In my past life, I was a chief felony prosecutor and felony court judge in Harris County, Texas for over 30 years,” said Poe. “I know firsthand how violent crime affects the community and families of victims. The loss of a child is the worst pain imaginable. This pain is made even worse when families are left without answers of what happened to their loved ones. This bill works to give the family and friends of victims of the missing a sense of closure by providing necessary resources to help find their loved ones.”
“I continue to be humbled and inspired by the Smolinskis, who have the courage to move forward in their pursuit of justice despite the unspeakable tragedy of their beloved son’s disappearance,” Esty said. “We ought to do all we can to help tens of thousands of American families like them who struggle to navigate a broken system. I am proud to join my colleagues in the House and Senate to introduce bipartisan legislation today that will improve access to critical information and help ensure grieving families have the necessary resources to seek justice for their loved ones.”
Billy’s Law will authorize funding for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) – the only federal database for missing persons and unidentified remains that can be cross-searched, accessed and added to by the public. NamUs enables the loved ones of missing persons to search for a match and add invaluable information to the case profile that only they might know. The legislation will also streamline the reporting process for law enforcement and medical examiners by connecting NamUs to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) – an electronic database that helps criminal justice professionals locate missing persons.
Finally, Billy's Law will establish an incentive grants program to help coroners, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies facilitate the reporting of missing persons and unidentified remains, and would require the U.S. Department of Justice to issue a report on best practice standards and procedures. Because of gaps in U.S. missing persons systems, there are an estimated 40,000 sets of unidentified human remains across the country that are rarely matched with missing persons.