Already in 2019: 20 Laws, 16 States

In just the first half of 2019, rape kit reform has made tremendous advances in state capitols across the country. Survivors, advocates, legislators, law enforcement, and countless others have rallied around ending the backlog of untested kits, investigating cases, and supporting survivors. Since January, 20 rape kit reform laws have been enacted in 16 states. 

These bills are part of Joyful Heart’s six pillars of legislative reform to count, test, and track rape kits and to prioritize the rights of survivors. Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Washington have joined Hawai‘i, New York, and Texas in enacting full rape kit reform, while Wyoming began its journey by enacting its first pillar. 

Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of communities across the United States. Since we launched our national effort, 41 states have passed laws supporting some aspect of the six pillars of reform, affecting more than 100,000 survivors and more than 309 million residents of those states. 

This work is the result of the countless calls, emails, letters, tweets, posts, and support from the Joyful Heart community. We’re grateful for these efforts and look forward to continued engagement through the rest of the year!

The states listed below made a commitment this year to improve rape kit handling processes and to enhance transparency for survivors through the following laws: 

  1. Alaska H.B. 49. Alaska legislators passed a bill that requires law enforcement agencies to submit kits to a crime lab for DNA analysis within 30 days of receipt. The agency will ensure that the lab tests the submitted kit within one year of receipt and will also make a reasonable effort to notify the survivor that their kit has been tested within two weeks of testing. If an agency determines a kit is scientifically unviable, does not meet eligibility requirements for upload in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), or was collected from a survivor wishing to remain anonymous, the kit will be deemed ineligible for testing. Additionally, this law requires the Alaska Department of Public Safety to include in their annual reports information regarding the number of kits determined ineligible for testing and the reasons the kits were determined to be ineligible.
  2. Arkansas H.B. 1567. Arkansas enacted a law that requires law enforcement to submit rape kits to a lab within 15 days of receipt from a healthcare provider and requires labs to test kits within 60 days of receipt from law enforcement. The law additionally requires that a rape kit tracking system built by the Arkansas State Crime lab allows survivors access to track their kit. Healthcare providers and law enforcement are required to enter information into the system. Law enforcement is not required to submit anonymous kits for testing if the victim does not request submission. Should a survivor with an anonymous kit later decide to file a police report, their kit must be submitted to the lab within 15 days of filing a report.
  3. Idaho S.B. 1411. Idaho enacted a law requiring that hospitals participate in their statewide tracking system and exempts rape kits from being tested if the victim chooses not to proceed.
  4. Indiana S.B. 424. Indiana enacted a law that requires law enforcement and prosecutors to provide rape kit updates to the tracking system. The law allows a survivor to register for electronic updates, including notice of rape kit destruction, via the state’s kit tracking system.
  5. Kentucky S.B. 97. Kentucky legislators enacted a law requiring the State Police to establish a rape kit tracking system by July 1, 2020. The system will include a portal for survivors to check the status of their kits anonymously. With this law, Kentucky has enacted all six pillars of comprehensive rape kit reform.
  6. Maryland S.B. 569 / H.B. 1268. Maryland enacted a law to establish the Rape Kit Testing Grant Fund to pay for testing rape kits. The legislature appropriated $3.5 million for this fund in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention will administer grants to law enforcement agencies to pay for rape kit testing.
  7. Maryland S.B. 767 / H.B. 1096. Maryland passed this law that requires that law enforcement submit rape kits to a crime lab for testing unless the victim does not consent to testing, there is clear evidence disproving the allegation, or the suspect is in CODIS and has pled guilty to the assault. Law enforcement is required to submit all other kits for analysis within 30 days of receipt from a medical facility, and a lab would be required to test kits in a timely manner. Additionally, the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee in the Attorney General’s Office will establish an independent process to review and make recommendations regarding law enforcement decisions not to test kits.
  8. Massachusetts H. 3506. Massachusetts legislators enacted a supplemental budget containing $8 million to fund the rape kit reforms passed in 2018. With this bill, Massachusetts has enacted all six pillars of comprehensive rape kit reform.
  9. Montana S.B. 52. Montana enacted a law mandating that, for kits with survivor consent to test, law enforcement must retrieve the kit from a medical facility within five days of evidence collection and submit the kit to a crime lab for testing within 30 days of receipt. For kits without consent to test, health care facilities must inform the victim that the evidence will be forwarded to the Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) for storage for a minimum of one year before the kit can be destroyed. Under this law, all kits with consent to testing must be submitted to the state crime lab within 30 days after receiving the kit. This provision will be in effect for four years. Additionally, DOJ must create and operate a statewide rape kit tracking system that allows survivors to access the system anonymously.
  10. Nevada A.B. 112. Nevada passed a law that tasks the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice with evaluating and reviewing progress of rape kit reforms.
  11. Nevada S.B. 368 / A.B. 176. Nevada legislators also enacted a law creating a Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights. This law grants sexual assault victims the right to: have their rape kit tested; request to be informed of any results of their medical forensic examination; be informed of evidence preservation policies; and, upon request, defer analysis and preserve the kit for at least 50 years for uncharged or unsolved sexual assault, and at least 20 years for unreported or anonymous sexual assault. With this bill, Nevada has enacted all six pillars of comprehensive rape kit reform.
  12. New Mexico H.B. 135. New Mexico enacted a law that creates a Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights. Law enforcement officials must inform survivors they have a right to know if their rape kit has been tested and the date results are expected, if a DNA profile was developed, if there was a DNA match, and information regarding the statewide rape kit tracking system. In cases where the offender has not been identified, law enforcement must notify survivors 180 days before any destruction of their rape kit and provide information on how to appeal this decision. Before interviewing a survivor, law enforcement must provide a survivor with a document informing them of their rights. Additionally, this law requires state crime labs to test kits within 180 days of receipt.
  13. Oklahoma S.B. 975. Oklahoma enacted a law that requires the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) to create a statewide rape kit tracking system for newly collected and backlogged kits. Law enforcement agencies, medical providers, or forensic labs that had untested kits found in the 2017-2018 statewide audit must participate in the system. Additionally, the tracking system must include a portal to allow survivors to access the system.
  14. Oklahoma S.B. 967. Oklahoma also now mandates that law enforcement submit rape kits to a crime lab for testing within 20 days of receiving the evidence with priority given to kits that will yield evidentiary value to the investigation and prosecution of the alleged sexual assault. Additionally, the law requires OSBI and each crime lab in the state to adopt procedures for the collection, submission, and testing of newly collected rape kits, as well as implement a protocol for prioritizing the testing of backlogged kits.
  15. Pennsylvania S.B. 399. Pennsylvania’s new law builds on current law by establishing submission and testing timelines for anonymous rape kits and kits for which the jurisdiction is unclear. The new law requires the State Police annually conduct an untested rape kit audit instead of biannually as previous law stated, and to include a review of current rape kit evidence collection practices every two years. The bill also grants victims the right to be informed at least 60 days prior to destruction of a rape kit; to have a rape kit preserved without charge; and to receive written information on policies about the collection and preservation of rape kits. It also requires that the Attorney General develop protocols for notifying victims about their rights.
  16. Texas H.B. 8. Texas legislators established a time frame for the submission and analysis of newly collected rape kits. Law enforcement agencies are required to collect kits from medical facilities within 7-14 days, depending on the distance between the agency and the medical facility. Crime labs are required to test kits within 90 days of receipt from law enforcement. The law also mandates law enforcement take an inventory of all rape kits in the state, with a report due December 2019. Law enforcement agencies must submit any kits from active investigations to a crime lab by January 2020. Furthermore, the bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits related to an unchanged or unsolved case for 40 years and requires the Texas Department of Public Safety develop a protocol for notifying victims before planned destruction of their kit. Finally, it extends the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases in which forensic evidence has not been tested or no match on the database has occurred.
  17. Virginia H.B. 2080. Virginia legislators created a statewide electronic tracking system for physical evidence recovery kits (PERKs), which assigns each kit a unique identification number. The tracking system will be available to survivors, as well as health care providers, law enforcement agencies, Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to update the status and location of kits.
  18. Washington H.B. 1166. Washington lawmakers enacted a law to establish a sexual assault Survivors Bill of Rights, including the right to information, upon request, about the forensic analysis of their rape kit and the right to receive notice before destruction of their kit. The law mandates that by May 1, 2022, the testing of all new rape kits must be completed within 45 days. The law additionally establishes an advisory group within the Office of the Attorney General that must report by December 2021 its recommendations on policies to eliminate the backlog of untested kits. Lastly, the law requires trauma-informed and victim-centered training for law enforcement. With this law, Washington has enacted all six pillars of comprehensive rape kit reform.
  19. West Virginia S.B. 72. West Virginia passed a law creating a Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, which grants sexual assault victims the right to: have their kit tested; be informed by law enforcement of any results of their medical forensic examination; be informed of evidence preservation policies; and -- upon written request -- be notified by mail 60 days before any intended destruction of the kit; and have their kit preserved for up to an additional 10 years.
  20. Wyoming S.F. 72. Wyoming legislators enacted this law that requires each criminal justice agency to report annually all investigations in which a rape kit is collected. The report must include: the type of crime involved; whether the evidence was submitted to a crime lab; if analysis was completed; and, if not submitted, the reasons for non-submission. The law additionally provides that destruction of kits cannot occur until the statute of limitations has run out or law enforcement obtains a court order.

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