Bill to Tackle Texas’ Rape Kit Backlog Heads to Gov. Greg Abbott's Office

AUSTIN -- A bill aimed at tackling the backlog of an estimated 15,000 untested rape kits in Texas is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for signing.House Bill 8 by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, would require an audit to determine the number, status and location of all the rape kits in the state. It would also create a timeline requirement for rape kits to prevent future backlogs.The Lavinia Masters Act, as Neave has titled her bill, is named after a Dallas woman whose rape kit sat untested for more than 20 years after she was raped at knifepoint when she was 13. Masters has become a passionate advocate for survivors of sexual assault and strongly supported Neave’s legislation.“This is historic legislation that is now headed to the governor’s desk and Lavinia Masters’ story really shed a light,” Neave said. “We can’t delay justice for survivors any longer. This legislation is not just going to tackle the backlog that we have right now but it’s also going to address the rape kits going forward. By passing this legislation, Texas is at the forefront of rape kit reform.”Neave’s bill would also prevent law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits related for uncharged or unsolved cases before the statute of limitations runs out or 40 years go by - the longer of the two.The proposal has the backing of some of the state’s top politicians, including House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Gov. Greg Abbott, who called the clearing of the backlog an administrative priority and is expected to sign the bill into law.After the bill was fully approved by the House, Bonnen sought out Neave and congratulated her.“She’s done something significant here,” he said.The passage of the bill continues Neave’s work of helping survivors of sexual assault. During her first legislative session in 2017, she made a name for herself by passing a law that allowed people to donate a dollar or more toward drawing down the rape kit backlog. That effort raised more than half a million dollars but failed to draw many law enforcement agencies to accept the funds.Law enforcement agencies said the problem was not that they did not want to apply for the grants, but the absence of a steady stream of funding to hire lab technicians and forensic scientists to perform the tests on a consistent basis. Neave said her new legislation and the funding attached to it will address that.Neave got help from a fellow North Texas lawmaker, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who is also the Senate’s top budget writer. Nelson proposed nearly $50 million in the state’s budget to hire more employees at the state’s crime labs and prioritize the testing of rape kits.As she passed the bill out of the Senate, Nelson said she finally thought the state was putting all the pieces together to end the backlog."This body has made sexual assault prevention and support a priority," Neson said. "House Bill 8 is an important part of this strategy."Some of the final details around the funding of the state’s crime labs still need to be worked out; the House only set aside $38 million for increased capacity, which would not be enough to completely end the backlog. But the provisions in Neave’s bill would go into effect if Abbott signs the law.  Continue reading...

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