Starting 2019 Off Strong: 28 Rape Kit Reform Bills in 19 States

Several states have begun their 2019 legislative sessions, and there has already been a flurry of activity in states around overhauling rape kit laws. Joyful Heart has been working diligently with lawmakers, survivors, and advocates around the country to introduce legislation and enact reform. So far, 28 rape kit reform bills in 19 states have been introduced.

Comprehensive rape kit reform requires states to pass and sign into law—or enact—six pillars of rape kit reform:

  1. Inventory: Count untested rape kits annually
  2. Test backlogged: Test all backlogged rape kits
  3. Test new: Test newly collected rape kits swiftly
  4. Tracking system: Establish a rape kit tracking system
  5. Victims’ rights: Give victims the right to know the status of their rape kits
  6. Funding: Fund these reforms

Here’s a quick look at what pillars states are working on:

First Pillar of Reform

These states are working on their first-ever pillars of rape kit reform! We applaud these states for taking their first step toward comprehensive reform.

Montana S.B. 52: This bill would require law enforcement to retrieve kits with victim consent to test within five days. Law enforcement would be required to 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 stored for a minimum of one year. Pillar: Test New. (Note: Montana has previously conducted a one-time inventory without legislation and are testing backlogged kits with federal funding, but S.B. 52 would be the first law the legislature would pass and the governor would sign.)

Nebraska L.B. 43: This bill would grant survivors the right to have an advocate present during a forensic exam when a rape kit is collected; a free exam regardless of whether they choose to report to law enforcement; prompt analysis of their kit; be informed, upon request, of any testing results; and be reasonably protected from the defendant. Medical providers and law enforcement officers would be required to provide survivors with information explaining their rights under the law. Pillar: Victims’ Rights.

South Carolina H.B. 3309: This proposed legislation would require the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to create and operate a statewide rape kit tracking system to follow kits throughout the criminal justice process. Additionally, the bill requires SLED to produce semi-annual reports detailing critical information, such as the total number kits in the system, the total number of kits surpassing six months since entry into the system that have yet to be tested, and the number of kits destroyed. Pillars: Tracking; Inventory.

Wyoming S.F. 0072: Under this bill, each criminal justice agency would be required 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. Pillars: Inventory.

Near Comprehensive Reform

Years of work are culminating for two states should their pending rape kit bills be enacted. If so, they will join Texas, New York, and Hawai’i as having enacted all six pillars of rape kit reform!

Kentucky S.B. 97: Under this proposal, the Kentucky State Police would be required to establish a rape kit tracking system by July 1, 2020. The system would have to include a portal for victims to anonymously check the status of their kits. Pillar: Tracking.

Washington H.B. 1166: This bill would require the Washington State Patrol to test sexual assault kits it receives and enter any resulting profiles into the DNA database within 45 days. This bill would also require law enforcement to submit kits collected before July 2015 to the state patrol for testing. Additionally, H.B. 1166 would grant survivors critical rights, including the right to be informed of any results of the forensic medical examination. Pillars: Test Backlogged; Test New; Victims’ Rights.

Additional reforms

These states have introduced bills addressing different pillars and are all working toward transforming how rape kits are handled, and fundamentally, the response to sexual assault.

California S.B. 22: This bill would require law enforcement to submit rape kits to a crime lab within 20 days of retrieval from a hospital. Crime labs would be required to test the kits within 120 days after receipt from law enforcement. This bill would apply to kits collected going forward. S.B. 22 additionally allocates $2 million to help local law enforcement agencies comply with these reforms. Pillar: Test New; Funding.

Idaho H. 116: This proposed legislation would require the Idaho State Police to test all rape kits that have not been cleared as “unfounded,” except for anonymous kits. Law enforcement agencies must retain rape kits cleared as unfounded for a minimum of 10 years. Pillar: Test New.

Illinois S.B. 1411/H.B. 1440: This bill* would require the Illinois State Police (ISP) to establish by rule a rape kit tracking system taking into account the recommendations made in the June 2018 report from the Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking and Reporting Commission. The bill would require the tracking system to be operational within one year of enactment of the bill. Health care facilities would be required to participate in the system. Pillar: Tracking. (*Note: These bills are identical; S.B. 1411 is in the Senate, and H.B. 1440 is in the House of Representatives.)

Illinois H.B. 0014: This bill would direct ISP to create a rape kit tracking system that would give access to medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, crime labs, and prosecutors to follow and track the kits through the criminal justice system. Sexual assault survivors would be able to track and receive updates on the status of their kits anonymously. Pillar: Tracking. (Note: Similar bills can be introduced in the same legislative session, and legislators work with advocates and stakeholders to determine what legislation is more suitable for the state.)

Indiana S.B. 0424: This bill would make changes to the existing Indiana Criminal Justice Institute’s Case Management System to allow for rape kit tracking. Law enforcement and prosecutors would be required to provide updates to the system. Victims would be given the option to register in the system to receive notifications regarding the status of their rape kits. Pillar: Tracking.

Indiana H.B. 1313: Under this proposal, the Indiana State Police (ISP) would be required to establish a reporting form to collect information about rape kits from medical providers and crime labs. ISP would have to issue a report annually on rape kits. Pillar: Inventory.

Maryland S.B. 767/H.B. 1096: This legislation* would require law enforcement to submit rape kits to a crime lab for testing unless there is clear evidence disproving the allegation, the kit contains an insufficient amount of evidence for forensic analysis to be performed, or the suspect is in the national DNA database and admitted to consensual sex with the victim during the incident. Law enforcement would be required to submit all other kits for analysis within 30 days of receipt, and a lab would be required to test kits within 150 days of receipt from law enforcement. Pillar: Test New. (*Note: These bills are identical; S.B. 767 is in the Senate, and H.B.1096 is in the House of Delegates.)

Maryland S.B. 0569/H.B. 1268: This bill* would establish the Rape Kit Testing Grant Fund to pay for testing rape kits. The state legislature would set aside state funds to go toward the fund, and the Maryland Department of Public Safety would administer grants to law enforcement agencies to pay for kit testing. These funds would supplement other funding appropriated to test kits and would not supplant it. (*Note: These bills are identical; S.B. 0569 is in the Senate, and H.B. 168 is in the House of Delegates.) Pillar: Funding.

Mississippi H.B. 460: Under this proposal, the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory would be required to test kits and upload any DNA profiles into the national DNA database within 120 days of initial receipt, or send the kit to another crime lab for processing within 30 days of receipt. H.B. 460 would also direct law enforcement to, upon the survivor’s request, inform the survivor of the status of the kit and respond to the request within 30 days. Lastly, the bill prohibits hospitals from charging survivors for their rape kit. Pillars: Test New; Victims’ Rights.

Missouri H.B. 467: This legislation would grant victims the right to have their kit preserved for the duration of the maximum applicable statute of limitations. Before intended destruction of a kit, survivors would have the right to be notified, upon request, no later than 60 days before the date of intended destruction; be granted further preservation of the kit; be informed of any testing results; and be informed of any policies regarding the collection and preservation of rape kits. Pillar: Victims’ Rights.

New Mexico H.B. 135: This bill would establish the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. These rights include the right to know if the kit has been tested, whether a DNA profile was derived from the rape kit evidence, and information about the statewide rape kit tracking system. Crime labs must test the kit within 60 days of receipt and store the kit for two years if the survivor has not reported the crime. Pillars: Test New; Victims’ Rights.

North Carolina S. 46/H. 29: For all rape kits collected after July 2019, this bill* would call for law enforcement to pick up a kit within seven days, and submit it to the lab within 45 days. For kits collected before January 2018, the bill would require any law enforcement agency with these backlogged kits to establish a review team to review every kit and determine a testing priority. The state crime lab would have to test kits “as soon as practicable.” Furthermore, the bill would appropriate $3 million for backlogged kit testing and $800,000 to hire more forensic analysts at the state crime lab. Pillar: Test New; Funding. (*Note, these bills are identical; S. 46 is in the Senate, and H. 29 is in the House of Representatives.)

Oklahoma S.B. 967: This bill creates a statewide rape kit tracking system for newly collected and backlogged kits. It requires participation by any law enforcement agency, medical provider, or forensic lab that has untested kits found in the 2017-2018 statewide audit. The bill requires the tracking system to include a survivor portal. Pillar: Tracking.

Oklahoma S.B. 975: Under this bill, law enforcement would be mandated to 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 bill would require the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation 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 backlogged kits. Pillar: Test New.

Oklahoma H.B. 2639: This legislation would establish certain rights for sexual assault survivors, including the right to know the status of their rape kit. Medical facilities, law enforcement, and prosecutors would be mandated to inform victims of their rights. The bill also calls for the creation of a document that outlines sexual assault victims’ rights and law enforcement to provide it to victims. Pillar: Victims’ Rights.

Oklahoma H.B. 1319: This bill would require law enforcement to pick up rape kits within five days of receiving notice from the hospital, and submit kits for testing within 15 days, with an average completion time for analysis to be no more than 45 days by January 2022. The legislation would additionally call for quarterly law enforcement reports, including the number of sexual assaults reported, kits submitted for testing, kits waiting to be tested, and other data. The state crime lab would be required to report annually on the data it receives and make the information publicly available. Pillar: Test New.

South Carolina H.B. 3309: Under this proposed legislation, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) would be required to create and operate a statewide rape kit tracking system to follow kits throughout the criminal justice process. Additionally, the bill requires SLED to produce semi-annual reports detailing critical information, such as the total number kits in the system, the total number of kits surpassing six months since entry into the system that have yet to be tested, and the number of kits destroyed. Pillars: Tracking; Inventory.

Texas H.B. 152: This bill would require, if sufficient personnel and resources are available, rape kits to be tested within 60 days of receipt from law enforcement, rather than as soon as is practicable. Pillar: Test New (improving current law).

West Virginia S.B. 72: This legislation would grant survivors critical rights, including the rights to have their kit tested; be informed of any results of the forensic medical examination; be informed of their rights; receive notification at least 60 days before destruction of the kit; and preserve the kit for an additional period up to 10 years. Pillar: Victims’ Rights.

How You Can Help

Do you live in any one of these states? If so, contact your state legislators and tell them to support these bills. Survivors deserve better, and our voices can make sure these reforms become law. If you don’t live in one of these states, contact your state legislators and let them know you’d like to see your state take action to end the backlog of untested rape kits and support sexual assault survivors.

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