By Latoya Lonelodge, Staff Reporter
On Feb. 11 at the Oklahoma State Capitol, 11 items were slated for discussion and to be voted on by the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee.
Of the many items that were discussed and voted on, in determining which bills would move on to the Oklahoma House of Representatives floor, HB3345 was struck from the agenda by Judiciary Chair Chris Kannady, House Representative District 91.
HB3345, also known as Ida’s Law, is a bill in support of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples epidemic. Ida Beard, an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, has been missing for over five years with no leads in her case. Through Ida’s Law, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) would create an office of liaison that will work with state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies specifically for missing and murdered Indigenous people’s cases. House District 93 Representative Mickey Dollens (Democrat) authored the bill with Senator John Montgomery (Republican) as the co-author, making HB3345 a bi-partisan initiative.
“HB3345 would create a position within OSBI that would oversee missing and murdered Indigenous cases, it was named after Ida Beard, who went missing in 2015 and the bill represents all of the cases throughout Oklahoma. Over 100 of them are currently open. Right now our bill wasn’t heard in committee like we anticipated, we’re not giving up, whether that means getting a solution done legislatively, working directly with the OSBI, or working with leadership, I’m looking at all venues possible to get something accomplished this session,” Dollens said.
In attending the committee hearing where HB3345 was struck from the agenda, Dollens said that in the capitol there are many reasons to assume why.
“There are probably a million different reasons that we can come up with, the reality is it just wasn’t heard and we got to keep moving forward if we want this bill to affect the change that we hope it does,” Dollens said.
Dollens said that he’s been working on the bill with community activists and tribal citizens across the state for the past six months.
“I’ve been down to Comanche Nation and I’ve heard from liaisons from Osage Nation and of course in El Reno with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, it’s been a group effort and I’m just the one to facilitate and listen and take all of the recommendations that we gathered in the interim study back in September and then we put together Ida’s Law, as well as companion bills,” Dollens said.
In working with tribes, Ashley McCray, Absentee Shawnee, and LaRenda Morgan, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Government Affairs officer, have been assisting in creating the bill with Dollens.
“HB3345 will create a state tribal liaison who will work with the federal liaison to close the jurisdictional gaps that our tribal citizens are facing that prevent them from gaining or even sometimes seeking justice, that way we can become fully Oklahoman under the law. LaRenda, Mickey and I have been working on this issue for a year now and we’ve been organizing in the communities,” McCray said.
McCray said they’ve introduced Dollens to their respective tribal communities.
“We’ve done lots of research, making and creating coalitions and really ensuring that we’re including the Native voice, Mickey’s gone down to the Comanche Nation headquarters, and there was several of the grassroots organizations down there, to hear what they’d want to say and what they want this bill to look like,” McCray said.
In their efforts in planning and researching for HB3345, Morgan said they looked at what other state senators and representatives have done in their legislation.
“That was something we had to spend a lot of time on, just reading and basically searching out to see what could work … I did the research, the reading, the writing, helping go back and forth with Mickey on the legislation side and Ashley organized the whole interim study and we both got him connected to all the people in the tribes and introduced him and got his name in the Indian community and got people to talk to him,” Morgan said.
In working with the communities, McCray said that they worked directly with the families of victims who are currently missing or have been murdered.
“All throughout this process, and LaRenda is one of them, these families have been working and communicating with Mickey Dollens, they offered their testimony at the study session, this is not just at the political level this is actually going directly to the families who’ve experienced this crisis,” McCray said.
While Kannady has yet to respond or give his reasoning behind striking HB3345 from the agenda as chair, efforts in pushing for HB3345 will continue. With time ticking, Morgan said it’s an opportunity to continue lobbying for Ida’s Law to be reintroduced back on the agenda.
“Allowing us to come in here and sit and then striking it from the hearing, that was pretty disheartening to say the least … I don’t know exactly what his reason is, but he pulled it off and that was a big hit to our endeavor and what we’ve put into it, it’s pretty emotional and it’s pretty disappointing,” Morgan said.
Morgan said there’s still hope through others like the OSBI, who have shown interest in support of the HB3345, other tribes, and people with influence.
“People that have influence that can possibly persuade him to put the bill back on the agenda and then me and Ashley extending the invitation for him to co-sponsor the bill so that he can actually be apart of this bill and see what we’re doing instead of fighting us,” Morgan said.
In looking ahead and planning what’s next, Morgan said she’s going to allow time for supporters to reach out to Representative Charles McCall, House District 22 at 405-557-7412.
“Representative Dollens will tell him we want him to co-sponsor the bill and we’ll see what his reaction will be to that. The OSBI also wants an opportunity to talk with him and express their need and their support for it, so we’re going to allow these things and there’s other tribes, tribal leaders who want to see if there’s anything they can do to help get this bill back on the agenda,” Morgan said.
Morgan said they will wait a few days to see if there is any progression or changes to possibly getting HB3345 back on the agenda in the coming weeks. The next judiciary committee hearing is set for Feb. 25.
Dollens said the impact of enforcing Ida’s Law would make more families feel safer.
“At the end of the day that’s the bottom line is that we want to make women, girls, boys and men who are tribal citizens feel safe and it can be, that is a complicated issue due to the jurisdictional boundaries in Oklahoma and the channels of law enforcement that one has to go to if there is a crime committed in Indian Country,” Dollens said.
With Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) being recognized at the federal level, Dollens said that having this additional office liaison in the OSBI dealing specifically with Indigenous people would go hand and hand with that federal liaison.
“I would encourage people to continue fighting for what we know is right and there are many paths to the top of the mountain and just because one path closes doesn’t mean we should give up, we should continue looking at all of our options on the table,” Dollens said.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho Legislative Lobby Day will be held Feb. 17, allowing the opportunity for supporters to lobby for Ida’s Law.