Months have passed since Mysti Babineau and other American Indian women came forward at the State Capitol to share the painful details of the violent assaults they endured. But their courageous testimony, shared in late January in support of a new crime-fighting task force, cannot be forgotten as the Legislature heads into its final weeks.
Lawmakers are now fully informed about a tragically under-the-radar public safety problem — the plague of crimes committed against women from tribal nations. There is no excuse for inaction.
Legislation to create a state task force on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls has made admirable progress in both the Minnesota House and Senate. It should pass this year, and money should be appropriated so that the group's members can do the vital work ahead of them.
Failure to do so would disrespect the bravery of the women who testified earlier this year. It would also send a terrible message to the state's 11 Indian nations — that lawmakers had more important business than these crimes. Minnesota ranked an alarming ninth in a recent listing of states with the highest number of missing or murdered Indian women.
There's reason for optimism and skepticism about the legislation's fate. The task force bill is fortunate to have energetic and bipartisan champions. Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, is the lead author in the House. In the Senate, authors include influential committee chair Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
Bills in both chambers have made considerable progress but have yet to clear a floor vote. There's still plenty of time for that, but it's troubling to recall that, last year, a bill also had momentum before falling victim to end-of-session wrangling.
The task -force legislation's numerous co-authors need to stay vigilant in the weeks ahead to ensure the bill gets across the finish line. Backers must also ensure that the task force gets funded. The House is calling for an appropriation of about $180,000, while the Senate hasn't yet specified funding. The governor's budget also appropriated money. The group would have up to 29 members and would produce a report documenting the extent of the violence against Indian women. It also would examine best practices for preventing these crimes and improving investigations when tragedies occur.
There's growing concern that this violence is underreported and, too often, not vigorously investigated. One key reason: questions between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies about who responds and follows up, especially when the crime occurs on reservations. The task force would launch no later than October and include a mix of law enforcement officials, tribal nation representatives, victims advocates and legislators. Kunesh-Podein said the funding is typical for statewide task forces of this size.
Lawmakers have a chance to pioneer what could become a model for the rest of the nation. They should rise to the challenge in the weeks ahead.
Said Kunesh-Podein: "Other states are watching.''