Bill requiring missing persons reporting to national database called ‘long overdue’

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A bill that would require entering information of people missing in Texas into a national database appears to be gaining momentum, after House committee testimony Thursday in which every speaker favored the bill and committee members called the legislation “long overdue.”

Lawmakers on the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee discussed the bill, HB 1419, filed in January by State Rep. Lacey Hull, R-Houston. Four additional House members signed on as joint authors.

The law would require the name of a missing person or child be entered within 30 days into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, also called NamUs.

The report to NamUs would need to include “all available identifying features such as dental records, fingerprints, other physical characteristics, and a description of the clothing worn when last seen, and all available information describing any person reasonably believed to have taken or retained the missing child or missing person,” according to the bill.

Justices of the Peace or medical examiners would be required to enter details of unidentified bodies within 60 days of the date a death is reported, including “fingerprints, dental records, any unusual physical characteristics, and a description of the clothing found on the body,” according to the law.

“NamUs is a no-cost tool to solve cases, help save time, money and resources and bring closure to heartbroken Texas families,” Hull said at the meeting.

Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne, speaking on behalf of the Texas Sheriffs’ Association, said his organization supports the bill.

By getting available information into the system, Hawthorne said law enforcement could “do good investigations and maybe bring relief to some families.”

The law would be called John and Joseph’s Law. The name references two Houstonians, John Almendarez and Joseph Fritts, who were missing for years. Their families said if the men’s information had been entered into NamUs after their missing persons reports were filed, they would have been found sooner.

Alice Almendarez said she struggled for nearly 12 years to find her lost father, until she emailed NamUs. NamUs was able to reopen her father’s missing persons case, get his information entered into the database with DNA and about six months later she located her father, she said.

“If his unidentified report and his missing persons report was entered into NamUs, I could have made this match myself. All law enforcement had to do was enter it,” Almendarez testified at the Capitol. “I just didn’t know that NamUs had existed.”

David Fritts, father of Joseph Fritts, said his son’s remains weren’t identified for nearly two years, until the NamUs DNA program was used.

“What are the real costs involved here, there has to be some cost, right?” said Fritts. “In fact, the real costs are not enacting this legislation to continue on the status quo in an inefficient, ineffective, non-cost-effective method currently being used.”

A fiscal analysis of the bill found the law would not require additional funding.

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