House approves bill to provide more evidence testing for sexual assault cases

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A bill aimed at ending delayed testing of DNA evidence related to rape and sexual assault cases received tentative approval Wednesday from the Texas House of Representatives. 

State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, made her bill debut in the Legislature with House Bill 1729. Neave said the bill creates a grant program to help end the backlog of untested rape kits in the state.

“We have an opportunity to bring justice to women, victims and survivors of sexual assault,” Neave said during the House’s session meeting. “This is my first bill and I wanted to make sure that it was meaningful to women and families in our state.” 

Sexual assault victims can use rape kits provided by hospitals to store evidence of the crime. When tested, these kits assist victims with obtaining more details, such as the identity of an unknown assailant, if they choose to do so. 

While the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2011 that requires all law enforcement agencies to send these kits to a crime lab within 30 days of the evidence collection, thousands of rape kits remain untested because of a lack of funding. 

Neave’s bill proposes a crowdsourcing approach to increase funds for testing these kits. She said application and renewal forms for driver’s licenses will offer an option to donate $1 or more to the fund, which will finance the project without creating new taxes. According to the Legislative Budget Board, the grant program is expected to generate $1 million per year starting in 2018, which is when the bill would go into effect. 

An additional $11 million in funding to test backlogged kits in 2013 only went toward kits submitted prior to 2012, which left thousands of new kits untested. Under this bill, money from the grant program would go toward testing both older kits and those submitted more recently to prevent this problem. 

The bill requires one more majority vote from the House before it can move to the Senate for further consideration.