LEGISLATIVE WATCH WYOMING: House Committee Passes Legislation to Boost Missing Persons Alert Systems

Alert systems bill would cover adults at risk, require helping local tribes with setting up missing persons communications network

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jan 17, 2023

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A House committee on Monday unanimously passed a bill that would ramp up Wyoming’s missing persons alert systems to include adults at risk and to help tribal nations create an emergency communications network, especially in light of missing and murdered Native Americans.

The House labor, health and social services committee voted 9-0 in favor of House Bill 18, which mandates the director of the state’s homeland security office to assist tribal, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to incorporate additional missing persons alert communications for an adult at risk or other missing persons of any age into current alert systems. An “adult at risk” is defined as an adult with a developmental disability, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or a potential cognitive impairment.

Senator Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, talks with ABo Biteman, R-Ranchester, before the start of the morning session January 13, 2023 in the Senate Chambers. Photo by Michael Smith

The legislation also would require Wyoming law enforcement agencies to assist local tribes with establishing a missing persons alert system if they so desire.

Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne), who co-chaired the select committee on tribal relations last year, testified Monday in front of the committee in support of the bill. “Research has shown that the first hours that a person goes missing are the most critical for recovery, so the longer that we wait in issuing these alerts, the less likely it is that we recover these individuals,” Ellis said. “So, we did feel it was important to make sure that we’re not just looking at children, but older adults.”

Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander), who also co-chaired the tribal relations committee in 2022, told representatives that the select committee worked with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes to try and address “gaps in our system that have been in place really for far too long.”

“We’ve been successful getting the AMBER Alert system in place and working to identify these missing people, not just in Fremont County, but around the state,” he said.

Under the bill, the state highway patrol is charged with working with the office of homeland security and law enforcement agencies to operate and integrate additional missing person alert communications networks into existing alert systems to aid search efforts. In addition, state highway patrol would be required to report annually to the criminal investigation division the number of times and dates that the alert systems were used; demographic information about abducted persons; the outcome of the abduction; and whether the alert system helped resolve the abduction.

The proposed House bill would add the provisions of a national law known as the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 into Wyoming’s statutes and AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) alerts, Rep. Larsen noted.

The Ashanti Alert Act became law on Dec. 31, 2018 and honors Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who was abducted and killed in Virginia in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The law created a voluntary nationwide communication network to assist with search and recovery efforts of missing persons over the age of 17 who don’t fit under the scope of AMBER alerts.

In 2021, Wyoming law enforcement agencies recorded 388 missing person cases, an October 2022 report from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center shows. Some people were reported missing multiple times in a year, so a section of the report focused on those unique individuals reported as missing. Of those cases, 57 individuals or 15% were identified as American Indian or Alaska Native.

Also, in 2021, 23 homicides were reported in Wyoming, including one victim who was an American Indian/Alaska Native, the report’s researchers found. 

Many expressed support for House Bill 18, including the Wyoming State Highway Patrol and a representative from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, during public testimony on Monday.

Said Timothy Cameron, the new colonel and administrator of the Wyoming Highway Patrol: “I would tell you that the Wyoming Highway Patrol supports this bill as written. It uses existing systems to get that critical information out quickly.”

Neither the Eastern Shoshone nor Northern Arapaho Business Councils responded to requests  for comment.

The bill now moves to the full House of Representatives for review.

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