The House on Monday passed a bill cutting red tape that has hindered rescue searches on federal lands, following two missions at Lake Mead that were delayed for months.
Lawmakers voted 394-0 to direct public land managers to expedite permits and waive insurance requirements for accredited search outfits helping locate missing people.
The bill “tears down bureaucratic roadblocks that are preventing families from receiving closure when their loved ones go missing on federal lands,” said bill sponsor Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
The bill was fueled by two cases at Lake Mead where federal rules stymied families and their hired rescuers for months.
A search at Lake Mead National Recreation Area last year was delayed 15 months until the family of slain Las Vegas taxi driver Keith Goldberg was able to obtain permits and $1 million in liability insurance for a volunteer search outfit to gain access to the land. His remains were found in less than two hours.
Likewise it was almost 10 months before the family of missing Air Force Staff Sgt. Antonio Tucker was able to dispatch a dive team to the lake.
His body was recovered two days later.
“These stories are heart-wrenching.” Heck said. “Unnecessary red tape must not continue to get in the way.”
Jeffrey Goldberg, the brother of Keith Goldberg, applauded the House action but said “it should not have come to this.”
“It was just common sense,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, who lives in New Jersey. “Our family had to struggle all that time to find my brother because the way the law was written. I’m thrilled other families may not have to go through what our family went through.”
The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has sponsored a similar measure.
At a House public lands hearing in June, subcommittee chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, scolded National Park Service officials over the delays in approving search missions.
Bishop continued speaking out on Monday.
In the Nevada cases, “the Park service actually disrespected individuals” and did not allow them to do what was humanely appropriate, Bishop said. “They could have overcome all of this if they just cared about people first but they do not.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter