The state legislature is being asked to create a new state government position and new requirements aimed at helping families cope when loved ones go missing. The idea is backed by a lobbyist who says he knows firsthand what those families face.
Kerry Messer is a lobbyist for Missouri Family Network. On July 8, 2014, he reported his wife Lynn missing. There was no sign of a struggle, she took nothing with her, and no trace of her has ever been found.
Messer told Missourinet he has learned what families of missing persons go through.
“Particularly on the front end of a tragedy there are no social service agencies, there’s nowhere for them to turn. They’re at their wit’s end and they don’t know nothing. They just try to muddle through,” said Messer.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1078 sponsored by Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), would create the “Office of Missing Persons Advocate,” within the Missouri Office of Adminstration. The Advocate and a deputy would be appointed by the governor and face confirmation by the state Senate.
Part of that office’s responsibility, said Messer, would be to help families deal with the disappearance of a loved one.
“Someone that can help them understand the potential resources that are available to them and also to help them just to understand why they’re not hearing anything after a season of time from their local law enforcement,” said Messer.
The bill also aims to increase communication among agencies investigating missing person cases.
“Half of the missing people in this country – between 40,000 and 60,000 – are in government agency control. They are unidentified bodies that have been buried in paupers’ graves, laying in morgues, medical examiner offices. DNA has been collected, not necessarily run in a lab to have a report, but the case files on these missing persons are scattered throughout the country, county by county, with no funding source to have all these people all across the country entering this information into a searchable database, nor is this information available to the general public,” said Messer.
Messer said the bill would attempt to create a system for entering into a system and comparing data on unidentified persons with that on missing persons.
“No other state has done this,” said Messer. “There is a federal law proposed called ‘Billy’s Law’ that would create a federal system, create funding for a federal system, and if we created a missing persons advocate we would be the first state to get plugged into that but otherwise we could operate on our own.”
There is no fiscal note on the bill but Messer said the goal is for it not to cost local governments or law enforcement agencies anything, meaning it would have to be paid for by the state.
He said the Advocate should also not interfere with investigations.
“The local law enforcement agency of an unresolved missing person case is in total control of that case and we do not want to try to upset that balance,” said Messer.
The bill will be heard by a Senate Committee next week.