A bipartisan bill aimed at addressing the "tragic issue" of missing and murdered Native Americans passed the U.S. House on Monday and is headed to the desk of President Donald Trump.
Savanna's Act, named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind of Fargo, North Dakota, a pregnant 22-year-old Spirit Lake tribal member who was killed in 2017, would establish national law enforcement guidelines between the federal government and American Indian tribes.
The bill unanimously passed the U.S. Senate in March after Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, reintroduced the bill after former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, had proposed it in 2017.
"When I first introduced this bill last Congress, I couldn't have imagined the groundswell of support we would receive — and I'm encouraged that even during these partisan times, Congress came together and passed this important and needed bill," Heitkamp said in a statement to USA TODAY.
She added, "But our work isn't done — Congress must continue to do more until every single Native American woman is safe in their community. Hold your members of Congress accountable and urge them to build on this work."
The bill requires federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies to update and create protocols to address missing or murdered Native Americans. The U.S. Department of Justice must provide training to law enforcement agencies on data entry, educate the public on the database, help tribes and Indigenous communities enter information in the database, develop guidelines for response to missing or murdered Indigenous people, provide technical assistance to tribes and law enforcement agencies and report data on missing or murdered Native Americans.
Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, introduced the bill in 2019 with 20 bipartisan lawmakers.
"Passage of Savanna’s Act brings us one step closer to ending this epidemic by upgrading critical data and improving communication among law enforcement. I look forward to President Trump signing our bipartisan bill into law," Gianforte said in an email to Great Falls Tribune, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, co-sponsored the bill.
“Savanna’s Act addresses a tragic issue in Indian Country and helps establish better law enforcement practices to track, solve and prevent these crimes against Native Americans,” Hoeven said in a statement on Monday. “We appreciate our House colleagues for passing the bill today and sending it on to the president to become law. At the same time, we continue working to advance more legislation like this to strengthen public safety in tribal communities and ensure victims of crime receive support and justice."
Murder is the third-leading cause of death for American Indian/Alaska Native women, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute. In 2016, there were 5,712 cases reported of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the UIHI's reports. But only 116 cases were logged in the DOJ database.
In 2018, Brooke Crews of North Dakota was sentenced to life in prison for killing Greywind and cutting the baby out of her womb.
Contributing: Nora Mabie, Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Savanna's Act passes US House, heads to Donald Trump's desk