National Politics

Texas governor signs bill targeting rape kit backlog

FILE--In this April 2, 2015, file photo, forensic analyst India Henry removes a pair of underwear from an evidence bag for testing in a sexual assault case in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill that will aim to eliminate the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in Texas. Abbott signed the measure in Dallas on Tuesday along with four other bills designed to help victims of sex crimes. The new law mandates law enforcement agencies conduct an audit to determine all of the untested rape kits in the state and that officials set timelines for their analysis.
FILE--In this April 2, 2015, file photo, forensic analyst India Henry removes a pair of underwear from an evidence bag for testing in a sexual assault case in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill that will aim to eliminate the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in Texas. Abbott signed the measure in Dallas on Tuesday along with four other bills designed to help victims of sex crimes. The new law mandates law enforcement agencies conduct an audit to determine all of the untested rape kits in the state and that officials set timelines for their analysis. AP Photo

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a measure into law on Tuesday that aims to eliminate the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in Texas.

Abbott's approval comes as states across the country are using legislation to bolster testing requirements and attempt to clear their own buildup of untested rape kits.

The Texas measure mandates law enforcement agencies conduct an audit to determine the number, status, and location of all of the untested rape kits in the state and then set timelines to ensure they are analyzed. It also allocates roughly $50 million toward hiring more workers at the state's crime labs and expands access to sexual assault nurse examiners for underserved populations.

Abbott said at an afternoon press conference in Dallas the bill would better address and provide justice for survivors of rape and sexual assault.

"One of the best strategies is the forensic testing of rape kits, but thousands of these kits have languished untested for years," Abbott said.

The new law follows Texas lawmakers' latest attempt in a long effort to tackle the state's rape kit backlog. In 2017, the Texas Legislature approved a bill that allowed drivers to offer donations to help the clear the pileup.

Democratic state Rep. Victoria Neave said it is currently unclear how many untested rape kits exist across Texas. Neave, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law will not only eliminate the current backlog, but prevent them from happening again.

"When we have somebody who is willing to come forward, go to a hospital and undergo this very personal, invasive exam to collect DNA evidence — to just have those kits sitting on a shelf untested for years, sometimes to the point where they are growing mold on them, is absolutely unacceptable," Neave said.

A portion of the bill will also require that evidence be kept for at least 40 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, depending on which is longer.

Abbott signed the measure along with four other bills designed to help victims of sex crimes.

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