Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force held a Zoom meeting to discuss recent collaborations and reports. Members of the board discussed funding, recent moves by the Biden Administration to support the force, and proposed legislation that would strengthen the force’s ability to combat violence against Indigenous women in New Mexico. The state has the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the country.

“A lot of these particular issues that relate to the fact that there is no national debt database for missing and murdered Indigenous women that data collection is something that’s incredibly difficult to do and so we also wanted to facilitate that process of ensuring that there’s the appropriate entries, so that we don’t have these misclassification issues that show up in the data in regards to funding this is unique to the position,” Special Assistant Attorney Mark Probasco said.

A significant amount of time was dedicated to addressing the still pressing issue that the U.S. does not have a national database for missing indigenous women. Probasco, who works with the force in authoring legislation, noted that their most recent bill will address and consolidate training for law enforcement in tracking missing indigenous women.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to almost a problem of logistics of given the fact that the state of New Mexico has, you know, at least 120 law distinct law enforcement agencies. There’s 13 different district attorneys, there’s the intersection of 23 sovereign nations within and adjacent to the State of New Mexico, and a lot of the problems that we’re seeing in the investigation of these cases and the prosecution of them,” Probasco said. “We anticipated having a separate bill to deal with basically from establishing grant money, so that we can institutionalize a network where that can receive complaints specific to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
 And that also will provide one resource, so that folks can report information that they may have that they can track the status of what is going on, because that was beyond the limited scope of jurisdiction and facilitation within this bill.”

The legislation that Probasco is pushing forward for the task force is still in its draft phase. According to Probasco, the bill proposes that to reform how law enforcement tracks missing and murdered Indigenous women and they will ask for $500,000 from the state during the 2022 legislative session. It will be modeled after Montana’s House Bill 21, also known as “Hanna’s Bill,” which was passed in the wake of the murder of 13-year-old Hanna Harris who was murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013. The bill requires a missing person specialist for all missing person cases.

Members of the task force also pushed for greater protection for the Indigenous LGBTQ community within the proposed legislation during the meeting. The next task force meeting will be held on December 14.

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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.