(NewsNation) — “Billy’s Law,” which would streamline the missing persons reporting process, was passed overwhelmingly by the House, and is now being sent to the president’s desk.
The legislation, which is officially called the Help Find the Missing Act,” takes its informal title from Billy Smolinski, 31. He went missing from Waterbury, Connecticut, in August 2004, and his mother, Janice Smolinski, has been searching for him ever since. She has, however, faced countless obstacles and systemic challenges to getting answers.
The bill, according to its sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., does the following:
- authorizes funding for the National Missing Persons and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which was created in 2007 by the Justice Department as a database the public can contribute to and access;
- connects NamUs with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center;
- requires that missing children be reported to NamUs;
- requires the Justice Department to issue guidelines and best practices on handling missing persons and unidentified remains;
- and create an incentives grants program to help officials report missing persons to NCIC and NamUs.
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., who is from Waterbury, championed this bill in the House of Representatives. She spoke to Janice Smolinski about the hardships Billy’s family went through.
“This was my hometown, this family had billboards, and they were putting together search parties, and every year on the anniversary, it would be in the newspaper,” Hayes recalled on “NewsNation Live.” “And every time they got any information, they would try to publicize it. But it was literally just the family working on their own, because the system was not designed to help find missing adults.”
Now, though, Hayes said, the bill is going to be a “game-changer” for families who “feel lost in their search for their loved ones.”
Hayes said the Help Find the Missing Act wouldn’t have been passed without the support of Joseph Petito, the father of 22-year-old Gabby Petito. Gabby Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11,2021 and her body was found Sept. 19 just outside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The remains of her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, were found in October 2021. Laundrie claimed responsibility for Gabby Petito’s death through written statements discovered in a notebook found near his remains, the FBI said earlier this year.
Gabby Petito’s case made national headlines. But many families don’t get the same treatment, Hayes said.
“I, on a smaller scale, have heard of people that have gone missing, (with) families that are looking for them, that never make the news,” she said. ‘”The tragedy that happened to (Joseph Petito’s) daughter gave him this platform where he had the ability to speak — there are so many families who never even get an on-air interview. … What he did was speak for them as well.”
Watch the entire interview with Rep. Jahana Hayes in the video above.
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