January 12, 2023 — The 2023 Minnesota State House of Representatives conducted its first hearing Thursday morning on House File 55 (HF 55), a bill pertaining to the creation of an Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls.
The bill, authored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL, District 52B) and co-authored by a handful of other state representatives, would require the Minnesota Commissioner of the Department Public Safety to establish a first-time office to prevent and interrupt gender-based violence faced by Black women and girls.
“As a state and a nation, we’re facing an unacceptable crisis of missing and murdered Black women and girls,” said Richardson. “The data is simply horrific. When we started this legislative work in earnest in 2019, there were an estimated 64,000 to 75,000 missing Black women and girls in the United States. What that significant range told us is that we don’t even know the full scope of this crisis.”
Richardson said the bill would create an office that goes beyond tracking and analyzing the data, and the root causes of these disparities, to:
Richardson was joined by several people who spoke on behalf of the bill, many of whom had been personally impacted by the murder of a Black woman.
“Pass the bill. Do it right. And do it for all the young women and all the moms who are suffering because of this,” said Dr. Peter Hayden, president and CEO of Turning Point, Inc., an African American organization providing support to those suffering from substance use addiction. Hayden’s daughter Taylor was murdered in 2016 in Atlanta. “We tried to do the right thing, my family. My son [former Senator Jeff Hayden] was a colleague of yours. All of my girls graduated from college. I was in the house. All of those stereotypes I don’t bring with me.”
“My sister Brittany was murdered in 2013,” said Lakeisha Lee, an advocate for those impacted by gender-based violence. “When my sister was killed, [her picture was] on the front page of every newspaper in Saint Paul. Underneath, it said ‘prostitute.’ Our family had to wake up to that. With news and media at our door. My sister worked for the City of Saint Paul, working with students in the North end neighborhood every day. My sister was an amazing caretaker. My sister was part of the community. She was not a prostitute. She was a victim. Our community needs this [bill].”
Rep. Richardson presented the bill alongside an A2 amendment, which provides for the creation of a grant program and requires the BCA to operate a missing persons program.
Rep. Paul Novotny (GOP, District 30B) offered an A3 amendment to the amendment asking for for an additional few sentences in the bill to allow for police departments or government agencies to also be able to apply for grants.
“I’m thinking maybe some organizations might want to work in connection with a government agency, maybe to get some training in,” said Novotny. “I think back to one of the last cases I worked as an investigator, tying into what Rep. Richardson was saying. How Black females are perceived in certain communities to be more vulnerable, and that [when they go] missing it is less likely to be investigated. And I can tell you, that was the perception of the perpetrator of that crime.”
Rep. Richardson urged a no-vote on the A3 amendment, stating that law enforcement agencies have already been at the table when discussing development of the office. Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL, 64B) and Rep. Cedric Frazier (DFL. District 43A) argued against Novotny’s amendment-on-the-amendment, noting that a relationship between the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls would already exist, as the office would be housed out of DPS.
The A3 amendment-to-the-amendment failed, 8 nays to 6 ayes. Rep. Richardson’s original A2 amendment passed unanimously.
There were a few questions about the bill. Rep. Walter Hudson (GOP, District 30A) asked about violence facing Black men and boys. Several legislators indicated they looked forward to seeing proposed legislation from Hudson on that topic in the future.
Rep. Matt Grossell (GOP, District 2A) asked about an updated fiscal note regarding the cost to the BCA. Rep. Richardson noted that the infrastructure for a missing person alert system was already in place and thus an updated fiscal note was not necessary.
The bill passed out of House Public Safety and Finance and was referred to House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law.
HF55 has a Senate companion. Senate File 19 (SF19) is authored by Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL, District 59) and co-authored by Senator Clare Oumou Verbeten (DFL, District 66). SF19 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee for its first hearing. It is unknown when it will be heard in its first committee.
The HF55 bill co-authors include: Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL, District 62B), Rep. Mary Frances Clardy (DFL, District 53A), Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL, District 59B), Rep. Cedric Frazier (DFL, District 43A), Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL, District 40A), Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL, District 40B), Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL, District 60B), Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL, District 34B), Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL, District 66B), Rep. Brion Curran (DFL, District 36B), and Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL, District 4A).
HF55 comes on the heels of a report by the Missing and Murdered African American Women Taskforce, out of the DPS Office of Justice Programs. Creating an office, as HF55 would do, is recommended in the report.
Cirien Saadeh is Executive Director of The UpTake, a collaborative media partner of Minnesota Women’s Press