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'Finally, victims will have justice' — House panel hears bill requiring rape kits be tested

Lindsay Brice, law and policy director for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testifies Feb. 18 before the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division. Sponsored by Rep. Marion O’Neill, left, HF2983 would, in part, provide funding for the examination, storage and retention of sexual assault kits by the BCA. Photo by Paul Battaglia

When sexual assault examination kits go untested or destroyed, rape survivors are victimized a second time.

So say supporters of HF2983, the so-called “Mandatory Rape Kit Testing Bill.”

It would require restricted sexual assault examination kits to be submitted to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension within 60 days and the BCA to store the kits for at least 30 months.

“Every kit will be accounted for, every kit will be tested,” Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake), the bill sponsor, said at a Tuesday news conference prior to a hearing on the bill by the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Division.

“Finally, victims will have justice,” she said.

The division laid the bill over, as amended, for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

Committee hears bill to mandate that sexual assault examination kits be tested 2/18/20

A 2015 audit of untested rape kits across the state revealed more than 3,400 in police storage, and the Minneapolis Police Department reported in November 2019 it had discovered more than 1,700 untested kits, roughly eight times as many as previously disclosed.

Discussing these numbers is somewhat problematic, said Jude Foster, statewide medical forensic policy program coordinator at the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. It’s unclear how many of these are restricted kits – where the victim doesn’t want evidence in the kit to be analyzed — and unrestricted kits — where the victim signs a release to permit forensic analysis.

Currently, many law enforcement agencies in the state don’t treat restricted kits as evidence, Foster said, and so they are often destroyed at three or six months, depending on the agency policies.

This extended time would give sexual assault victims a chance to change their mind about designating their kits as restricted and signing a release to have the kits sent to a lab, said O’Neill.

“This bill sends a clear message to all survivors and victims that we are listening, and our system is responding, and we’re here to support their ability to seek justice,” said Artika Roller, executive director of MNCASA.

HF2983 would appropriate an unspecified amount of money from the General Fund to the Department of Public Safety to test and store rape kits, create a searchable database with information on the status of a victim’s individual rape kit, and hire additional scientists and toxicologists at the BCA.

The bill would also direct the BCA to develop a uniform sexual assault examination kit consent form for victims of sexual violence.

There is currently no Senate companion, but Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Mpls) said at the news conference she has a bill she plans to introduce within the week.

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