AUSTIN (KXAN) — Janice Smolinski’s hope hasn’t wavered.
Her son Billy vanished 18 years ago in Connecticut. Smolinski said the police report said he was murdered, but they’ve yet to find her son’s body.
“We never give up hope never. And you know, it’s just we have a lot of faith,” said Smolinski. “And we haven’t stopped searching for him since.”
The Smolinskis reported Billy, 31 at the time, missing but say the wide range of separate and uncoordinated federal, state, and local databases made it difficult to match their missing son with human remains.
“We had our own tip line at one time, because the tips, unfortunately, were going to the police. And the police weren’t following up on them,” she said. “So, the people who had given the tips had come to us and told us the tip, and then from there, we would pursue the police. And we would pursue the tip to make sure the police followed up on it.”
The family eventually took their concerns to lawmakers.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, (D-Conn.), from Billy’s home state, heard the family’s concerns and wanted to close loopholes in the missing persons system.
He first tried in 2009 but the bill didn’t pass. Earlier this month, Murphy and four other Senators including Senator John Cornyn, (R-Texas) introduced the Help Find the Missing Act or “Billy’s Law.”
The federal bill would streamline missing persons reports across the nation ensuring that law enforcement databases are more accessible and comprehensive.
The Help Find the Missing Act would make it easier for families to add their loved ones to a national registry.
“There are thousands of families like the Smolinskis who are forced to endure the crushing uncertainty of a missing loved one and then end up victimized all over again by a missing persons system that doesn’t allow families to participate in the search for their family member. There’s no excuse for the inefficiencies of the current process, which won’t allow databases to communicate with each other. Billy’s Law is a simple, commonsense fix that I first introduced in the House in 2009, and I won’t stop pushing until we get it done,” said Murphy in a press release.
The bill would connect the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs which anyone can access with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center or NCIC streamlining the reporting process.
It would require missing children to be reported to NamUs. The bill would also create an incentive grants program to help local law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners report missing persons and unidentified remains.
It would authorize $7 million per year in funding for NamUs from 2023 through 2027, and it would require the Department of Justice to issue guidelines and best practices on handling cases.
“Nobody should ever have to wonder about the fate of their missing child or loved one, but tragically, this is a reality for far too many,” said Cornyn in a press release. “By improving the missing persons reporting process and improving coordination, this legislation ensures that local law enforcement can work swiftly and comprehensively to deliver justice to the families and friends of the missing.”
Billy’s Law has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The chairman of the committee will determine if it gets scheduled for a hearing.
“This is not county level, city level, state level. This is national level. And it’s important because crimes don’t respect boundaries, there’s no county, city or state boundary, or even international boundary that’s going to, you know, stop a crime,” explained Todd Matthews, former NamUs spokesperson.
He urged families to contact their lawmakers and share why it’s important to support this federal bill.
He added that “If the federal law passes, and people actually adhere to that law, and we put all of our missing and unidentified into NamUs. I think we’ll have a better handle on how many are missing. How many are unidentified, because I’ve worked in this for many, many years I still don’t know how many are identified. I don’t know exactly how many people are missing.”
Thirteen states have passed similar legislation on the state level including Texas just last year, following a KXAN investigation.
The law requires law enforcement agencies, justices of the peace and medical examiners in the state to use NamUs to solve missing and unidentified persons cases.
Experts believe Texas may be the key to making Billy’s Law national.
“Texas is a big fish. So, when Texas passes a law, there’s ripples in the water. People know it, you know, people know that something significant has happened,” said Matthews.
Texas families looking for loved ones have been pushing for a federal law for years. They worked closely with Texas State Representative Lacey Hull to get the law passed in the state.
Hull’s office said she’s looking into gaps in the law related to reporting missing persons but right now she doesn’t think it will require an update to address it.
Billy does have a NamUs case.
His mom said the legislation gives hope and encouragement during times of heartache and it would relieve stress during hard days.
“If there was just one bill throughout the whole country, they’ll be on the same page, and they’ll be able to work it and make their matches law enforcement can communicate with each other,” said Smolinski.
Her family and supporters continue to search for his remains.
“I think at some point, we’re gonna get our answers. But in the meantime, we want to help other families get their answers as well,” said Smolinski. “If it happened to Billy, it could happen to anyone across the country.”