Bill to require rape kits be tested to make backlogs obsolete has bipartisan support

Author Rep. Marion O'Neill "incredibly optimistic"

Sloane Martin
February 18, 2020 - 4:51 pm
State capitol

Entercom

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It's not often that a bill at the capitol in St. Paul has broad bipartisan support, but one working its way through committee appears to.

It would require rape kits be tested and mandate centralized storage in the hopes of making backlogs obsolete. At a public hearing Tuesday, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform committee decided to lay the bill over for possible inclusion.

Last November, Minneapolis Police reported 1,700 untested rape kits dating back as far as 30 years, stating that the last count of fewer than 200 was a mistake. The kits contain key DNA evidence used in rape investigations.

Rep. Marion O'Neil says backlogs are a statewide problem that deny victims justice.

"I think it sends a message that they weren't taken seriously," she says of victims. "The more I dig into this, I hear that permeate through the whole system that they just aren't taken very seriously and that culture absolutely needs to change."

In fact, it's nationwide issue. The organization End the Backlog estimates hundreds of thousands of kits are sitting untested across the U.S.

The bill would also create an online database for victims to check the status of their kit. Victims have 30 months to give consent to have it tested to kickstart a criminal case. 

"Tracking and appropriate storage is critical for eliminating potential biases from our system, creating accountability, transparency, and consistency," Artika Roller, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said. "It also increases the victims' faith in our system."

The Minnesota BCA supports the bill. O'Neill says the financial aspect isn't solidified, but it will require the BCA to hire more DNA analysts, toxicologists and administrators.

She says she is "incredibly optimistic" about the bill's future.

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