Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits

Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits
© Greg Nash

Senators on Wednesday held a hearing on efforts to cut the backlog in testing forensic DNA evidence, in particular for rape kits.

Officials testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the progress made through a Justice Department grant program to state and local crime labs. But they said there was still a massive backlog and more work needed to be done.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyConnect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done Schumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday Dems threaten to sue for Kavanaugh records MORE (R-Iowa) highlighted the Debbie Smith Act of 2004, which created the grant program.

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During the hearing, lawmakers focused on laws in some states that require authorities to take an inventory of untested kits. Other states have gone further and require law enforcement to test those kits within a certain time frame.

Lawmakers discussed whether a federal law is needed to require states quickly test kits after they are submitted.

“In my home state of Texas, the rape kit backlog has reduced by 90 percent since the requirement law passed,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTop Senate Intel Dem: Trump compiling a 'Nixonian enemies list' It’s possible to protect national security without jeopardizing the economy Archivist rejects Democrats' demand for Kavanaugh documents MORE (R-Texas).

“We have been talking about this for too long, we need answers,” he added.  

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts They knew it would cause lasting harm, and still took children from parents Dem strategist: It's 'far-left thinking' to call for Nielsen's resignation MORE (D-Hawaii) pressed the experts on whether all states should enact such a requirement.

Gerald LaPorte, the director of the Office of Investigative and Forensic Services, at the Justice Department, and Gretta Goodwin, director for Homeland Security and Justice at the Government Accountability Office, agreed.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzBeto O’Rourke: Term limits can help keep politicians from turning into a--holes Election Countdown: GOP worries House majority endangered by top of ticket | Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries | Parties fight for Puerto Rican vote in Florida | GOP lawmakers plan 'Freedom Tour' Former spokeswoman defends Trump calling Omarosa ‘dog’: He’s called men dogs MORE (R-Texas) pressed the panel on cutting down the average wait time for testing rape kits.

"Rape is uniquely destructive and particularly susceptible to DNA testing,” said Cruz.

LaPorte told Cruz that sexual assault cases are "prioritized in the lab."

In a second panel, lawmakers also heard from Debbie Smith, the namesake of the 2004 law. Smith had to wait 6 years until her rape kit was tested and her rapist put behind bars.

She pushed for a better accounting of how many kits still have not been tested.

“Without tracking these kits, victims will remain in the dark about what is going on with their kit and we may never know just how many kits there are waiting to be tested,” said Smith.