BOISE — Legislators on Thursday approved $222,300 in funding for a bill that would improve testing and tracking of sexual assault evidence kits.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 15-4 to approve the funding for House Bill 528, proposed by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.
The Spokesman-Review reported that the “no” votes on the funding came from Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, and Rep. Jason Monks. Monks, R-Meridian, who later asked to change his vote.
The funding would be used to pay for forensic analysts at the Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab in Meridian. The lab is responsible for testing all kits in Idaho, with the exception of those tested at an FBI lab.
The bill, which still needs approval from the Senate, also requests $207,300 for every year after the first year if the proposed bill were to become law.
Currently, Idaho has no law in place mandating law enforcement track whether the rape kits collected are tested. A rape kit is performed after a person alleges sexual assault in an effort to search for DNA evidence. A rape kit going untested does not mean a case goes without being prosecuted.
ISP’s lab has a policy in place, stating law enforcement may choose not to submit a kit if it is determined no crime has been committed or if a victim requests his or her kit not be tested.
If this bill is approved, a stipulation would be added that if police decide not to test a kit under the belief a crime was not committed, a county prosecutor must sign off on the decision.
The legislation would also mandate if law enforcement chooses to test a kit, they must deliver it to the lab within 30 days. The lab would then have 90 days to test the kit and enter any discovered DNA codes into a national database.
The ISP lab plays no role in whether a kit is submitted for testing. That discretion is left to each individual law enforcement agency. Without a statute in place, ISP also has no oversight that mandates a law enforcement agency report how many kits are collected into evidence versus how many of those kits are sent to the lab for testing.
The bill proposal came following an investigation by the Idaho Press-Tribune on the disparity between law enforcement agencies’ rate of submitting rape kits for testing.
Through a series of a public records requests over several months in 2015 and 2016, the Press-Tribune analyzed statistics from 22 law enforcement agencies in the state and results varied widely.
Over an approximate five-year period, for example, Nampa Police submitted about 10 percent of the rape kits collected into evidence for testing, while the Meridian Police Department submitted about 80 percent of its kits for testing.
In response to the Press-Tribune’s requests, some law enforcement agencies estimated it could take up to 60 hours of labor to find statistics on how many kits were collected over five years’ time, while other agencies produced the numbers and explanations in a timely fashion without demanding fees.
If Wintrow’s bill passes the Senate, the legislation would mandate each agency submit an annual report with the number of kits collected and those that went untested to the state.
A USA Today story published Thursday said 20 state legislatures, including Idaho’s, have seen rape kit reform bills come through this year. The article said about 50 bills have been introduced, dealing with various aspects of rape kit testing. The proposals included audits, mandating testing, reducing police discretion, funding and setting time limits on testing, according to USA Today’s article.