Legislators Must Fund Rape Kit Reform

On March 15, The New York Times profiled a bill introduced in Texas that would enable individuals to donate to rape kit testing. Texas has a backlog of nearly 20,000 untested rape kits—testing these kits, investigating cases, and prosecuting offenders requires significant resources. As a growing number of states seek to address their backlogs, legislators across the country are grappling with how to fund rape kit reform efforts.

With many states facing budget deficits this year, legislators may be challenged to find funding for rape kit reform efforts. Joyful Heart strongly urges states and local governments to appropriate state funding to test rape kits. This month, both houses of the Utah legislature unanimously passed a rape kit reform bill—and appropriated $1.2 million to implement the provisions of the bill.

In some states, legislators have embraced creative, unusual approaches to fund rape kit reform and initiatives to serve sexual assault survivors. In 2007, Texas was one of the first states to do so, enacting a $5-per-customer fee collected from sexually oriented businesses. These funds support programs to assist sexual assault survivors, like rape crisis centers. As of 2014, Texas has collected $17 million for these programs.

This session, there was more innovation from the Texas legislature as State Representative Victoria Neave introduced a bill that would give residents the option to donate money for testing rape kits when applying for or renewing their driver’s license. H.B. 1729 would create a grant program that collects these donations and disperse them to local law enforcement agencies solely for the purpose of testing rape kits. This voluntary contribution program through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has already successfully provided funding to programs that support veterans, Texas state parks, and Texas Special Olympics trainings.

In 2012, Illinois followed Texas’s lead and also adopted a tax on sexually oriented businesses. The Illinois General Assembly enacted a $3 fee for strip club customers or an annual fee on strip club sales ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. By 2013, the fees had generated $380,000 for rape crisis centers throughout the state. Pennsylvania is currently considering similar legislation. State Representative Tom Murt introduced a bill this week, H.B. 845, to impose a $5-per-customer fee on sexual oriented businesses, which will go toward a fund for rape victim services.

This year, inspired by the fundraising success of the Texas and Illinois laws, Washington State Representative Tina Orwall proposed legislation to expand required law enforcement sexual assault training. The bill would also create a grant program for multidisciplinary response teams addressing cases that result from testing backlogged rape kits. To fund this grant program, H.B. 1109 establishes a 6.2 percent fee for liquor licenses and permits.

California has a similar bill pending which creates an option to make a donation while filing income taxes. Introduced by Assemblymember Evan Low, A.B. 280 would establish the Rape Kit Backlog Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund. Residents would be able to make a voluntary contribution through their tax returns towards this new fund. These funds would be used for rape kit testing. A.B. 280 specifically states that these revenues are to “supplement” and “not supplant” funding to process all rape kits. Joyful Heart fully supports this requirement, which ensures that the state continues to commit budgeted funds to support rape kit testing.

While states can consider alternative funding measures to achieve public safety goals—and the effort is both needed and appreciated—it remains the duty of the legislature to use general funds first to serve the people and correct injustices. As states debate and set their budgets this spring, we urge legislators to fully fund reforms to end the rape kit backlog through their state funds.

-By Lily Rocha, Joyful Heart Foundation Policy and Advocacy Manager, March 16, 2017

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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