As Congress nears its end, legislation for missing and murdered Indians is stalled in House

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Legislation aiming to combat the crisis of missing and murdered Indians is on its last legs this Congress. With just hours left before the 115th Congress comes to a close, Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) “Savanna’s Act” is stalled in the House of Representatives. As Heitkamp prepares to leave her post in the U.S. Senate, she says people in high places on Capitol Hill are putting up roadblocks.

“If it doesn’t pass then that’s going to be an impediment,” said Mark Fox, the tribal chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.

Fox is wary of the sly dealings on Capitol Hill. He hopes Heitkamp secures one last win as she prepares to leave Congress.

“With the passage of the act we’re hoping that that will lead itself to more federal support and ultimately maybe more state support,” said Fox.

“Savanna’s Act” aims to better equip the federal government to address cases of missing and murdered Indians, on reservations and in urban areas. The legislation recently passed unanimously in the Senate and Heitkamp was hopeful it would become law. But she says House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is trying to kill it because he does not like the scope of the bill.

“I think he just has a problem with any of this applying any place other than Indian country and that represents a level of ignorance about what the problem is,” said Heitkamp.

Heitkamp finds it’s disappointing that one person is holding the bill hostage. If reintroduced in the new Congress, she will not be around if it crosses the finish line, and she says it could take another two years.

“I don’t think Bob Goodlatte is holding the Savanna’s Act up,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

Cramer will soon take over Heitkamp’s Senate seat, but for now remains a Republican in the House. He says the reality is, no one member is blocking the legislation. He thinks it took too long to pass in the Senate.

“I wish we would’ve gotten this bill a couple months ago and, you know, worked it through the system,” said Cramer.

If it doesn’t pass by the end of this Congress, the process would have to completely restart in 2019. Chairman Goodlatte did not respond to multiple requests for comment.