BOISE — A piece of legislation requiring law enforcement to track all untested rape kits unanimously passed the Senate on Tuesday and will head to the governor for approval.
The bill was initially proposed by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise. Currently, there is no law in place regarding the evidence kits, only a policy by the Idaho State Police.
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said before the vote that the testing of rape kits could help both the suspect and victims who may have to testify in cases where one person claims a crime happened and the other says it didn’t.
“It is a heart-rending process to put that person on the stand if it is a child or a wife who has been subjected to this abuse,” McKenzie said.
He said testing the kits is a positive thing for both the victims and those accused of crimes.
“It’s much better than (a victim) being dragged up on the stand and cross-examined and being accused of lying,” McKenzie said in support of the bill.
Nampa Police Capt. Brad Daniels said Tuesday that after the Press-Tribune’s articles published in November, the agency has submitted some of the untested kits reviewed.
At the time of the request, Nampa Police Department reported they collected 117 rape kits into evidence from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 5, 2015. Of those, 12 rape kits were sent to a lab for testing.
Daniels said the department plans to submit some of those kits that were found untested to the lab for testing.
Although the measure passed the House and Senate floors unanimously, not everyone was supportive of the measure.
“I really believe the Legislature needs to take a strong look at allowing law enforcement to do their job and not try to dictate what we need to do. I think they’re trying to help, I really do,” Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland told Local News 8 TV station. “They need to let us decide if we’re going to send the kit and when we send the kits in. Because the majority of our rapes, not to say that we don’t have rapes, we do, but the majority of our rapes that are called in, are actually consensual sex.”
The Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab in Meridian is responsible for testing all rape kits submitted into evidence. The kits, commonly known as “rape kits,” are used to collect DNA evidence from a victim’s body after an alleged sexual assault.
If signed by the governor, the bill would add the stipulation that if a law enforcement detective determines it is unnecessary to test a kit, a county prosecutor must sign off on the decision.
The legislation would not mandate all kits be tested.
The bill was proposed following an investigation by the Idaho Press-Tribune which found significant discrepancy among law enforcement agencies’ rate of submitting kits for testing. The Press-Tribune filed record requests with 22 law enforcement agencies in Idaho in 2015 and 2016 and responses varied widely.
Some agencies did not readily track how many kits were tested, others estimated it could take up to 60 hours to find the answer. Many agencies could promptly answer how many were submitted for testing, but could not immediately answer the question of why a kit went untested.
The bill, sponsored on the Senate floor by Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, would also implement time limits stating when a law enforcement agency must submit the kit for testing and when the lab must complete analysis.
Last week, the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved the funding of $222,300 for the bill. Every year following the first year the legislation is in place, ISP would receive $207,300 to maintain the new policy.
The funding would be used for the ISP’s lab to pay for resources and additional forensic scientists.
Idaho isn’t the only state that’s seen legislation this year on rape kit testing. A USA Today article recently reported 20 different state legislatures, including Idaho, have seen a total of about 50 bills drafted regarding rape kit reform.
On Monday, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill into law mandating all rape kits in the state be tested.