Billy Smolinski Jr. and his dog Harley before he vansihed in 2004.
Today, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), as well as U.S. Congressmen Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) introduced Billy’s Law, also known as the Help Find the Missing Act – legislation that would close loopholes in our national missing persons systems.
Every year tens of thousands of Americans go missing, never to be seen by their loved ones again. At the same time, there are an estimated 40,000 sets of unidentified human remains across the country. Sadly, because of gaps in our systems, missing persons and unidentified remains are rarely matched.
Billy’s Law, which was originally introduced in 2009 by then Congressman Chris Murphy, was inspired by Janice Smolinski of Cheshire, Connecticut. In 2004, her 31-year-old son Billy went missing from Waterbury, Connecticut. When faced with the nightmare of trying to locate her missing son, Smolinski faced countless systemic challenges when trying to work with law enforcement to find him. Murphy penned Billy’s Law to address those challenges and help ensure that more families do not encounter the hurdles the Smolinskis faced as they searched for their son.
Billy’s Law will help the families of the missing find justice by authorizing and ensuring funding for the only federal database for missing persons and unidentified remains that can be cross-searched, accessed and added to by the public – the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). This database enables the loved ones of missing persons to search for a match and add invaluable information to the case profile that only they know.
The bill would also streamline the reporting process for law enforcement and medical examiners by connecting NamUs and the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) – two major federal missing persons and unidentified remains databases. Finally, Billy’s Law establishes an incentive grants program to help coroners, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies facilitate the reporting of missing persons and unidentified remains, and would require the Department of Justice to issue a report on best practice standards and procedures.
“Thousands of families across America wake up every day not knowing the whereabouts of their missing loved one. They expect and deserve Congress to come together to figure out a way to improve the way we handle missing persons cases. We need to do everything possible to make the tools and resources needed to find the missing available, and I won’t stop fighting for this legislation until it becomes law.” said Murphy.
“This bill will reduce paperwork and provide law enforcement in Alaska and across the country with more tools to help families find their missing loved ones. We can always do more to help those experiencing the traumatic experience of having someone close to them go missing — and I urge the Senate to pass this bipartisan bill,” said Begich.
“Handling the pain of a missing loved one is hard enough without a system that is ill-equipped to handle these cases,” said Schumer. “This bill will empower families in their searches, and ensure that the federal government is doing its part to help find the missing.”
Chris Murphy, left, and Ted Poe shook hands several years ago when they co-sponsored the first effort to get Billy’s Law into federal legislation. In the middle is Janice Smolinski, the driving force behind the bill.
“Having served as a chief felony prosecutor and a felony court judge in Harris County, Texas for over 30 years, I know firsthand the burden that violent crime puts on our communities,” said Poe. “The pain is made even worse when families are forced to wait for many months, or years, until they can find closure. Some families never find closure.”
“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bicameral, bipartisan legislation that will help families across the country,” said Esty. “For families like the Smolinksis, who have struggled to navigate a broken system while also mourning the disappearance of their son from Waterbury, we ought to improve their ability to access critical information. Billy’s family is joined by the families of more than 87,000 missing persons across the country, and Billy’s Law will ensure that they have the necessary resources to continue the fight for justice for their loved ones.”