Friday, January 22, 2010

Billy's Law Moves Forward ~ More Co-Sponsors Needed

A Cheshire mother whose son has been missing for more than five years testified in Washington, D.C., Thursday about the importance of the proposed “Billy’s Law” in helping families find their missing loved ones.

Janice and William Smolinski’s son, William Smolinski Jr. of Waterbury, disappeared Aug. 24, 2004, at the age of 31.

Janice Smolinski and U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5, testified Thursday at a hearing before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security about the “Help Find the Missing Act,” or “Billy’s Law.” 

Murphy co-introduced the federal legislation, which is named after Billy Smolinski, last summer.

“I’m here to represent the families of all the missing in the United States,” Janice Smolinski said. “I know what they are going through.”

Thousands of Americans disappear each year. Meanwhile, there are about 40,000 sets of unidentified remains being held or disposed of, with no organized system to match cases and remains. The proposal is an effort to have an organized way to find matches. It would provide law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners with the guidance and resources to help bring closure to families of the missing, according to Murphy.

“It was an emotional and productive hearing,” Murphy said Thursday. “I’m confident the proposal will get swift passage through committee, the House and Senate.”

Murphy said he hopes the law will go to President Obama’s desk by the end of the year.

Police have said they think Billy Smolinski was the victim of foul play, and they have searched without success for his body at several locations, including in Shelton and Seymour. His parents say they are optimistic their son will be found.

“Right now, law enforcement is meeting every three or four weeks to discuss Billy’s case, and I think it will be soon,” Janice Smolinski said.

Janice Smolinski said after Billy vanished, law enforcement was slow to respond and take their fears seriously. It took four years for her son’s information to get entered into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Crime Information Center, something that should happen immediately, she said.

Murphy said systems in place now for law enforcement and medical examiners to use to help families find their loved ones aren’t linked.

Smolinski said she believes the changes allowed under Billy’s Law are major breakthroughs.

“There is a disconnect between medical examiners and law enforcement,” she said. “This will mean a central database.”

According to Murphy, federal law currently doesn’t mandate that information about missing adults and unidentified bodies be entered into national databases. While law enforcement can voluntarily report this information, a lack of resources and knowledge of the national databases often prevents them from doing so, Murphy said.

“It is a nightmare to think a body has been recovered and is sitting in a morgue somewhere, and you as a family don’t know yet,” Murphy said.

The legislation would authorize, and therefore help ensure funding for, the National Missing Persons and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs , which was created in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide a missing persons/unidentified database that the public can view and contribute information. The NamUs site, , has information on missing people and unidentified decedents, a tool for trying to match them.

The proposal would connect NamUs with the NCIC to create more comprehensive missing persons and unidentified remains databases, and streamline the reporting process for local law enforcement.

More databases would be available to the public, so families can help with the search.

Under the plan, the FBI would make NCIC information available to the public, with the exception of information it considers to be classified, Murphy said.

The legislation would create an incentive grants program to help states, local law enforcement and medical examiners report missing and unidentified persons to NCIC, NamUs and the National DNA Index System. The proposal is for up to $10 million to go toward the grant program, according to Murphy.

Funding would still need to be approved by the appropriations committee, he said.

If a police department or agency gets the federal grant money, then within 72 hours of an adult going missing, they must put the required information into the NamUs and NCIC databases, according to Murphy’s office.