BOISE — With no current state law in place on how to track sexual assault evidence kits, a piece of legislation unanimously passed in the House on Wednesday to mandate law enforcement track all kits.
House Bill 528 would mandate law enforcement track which rape kits are untested and offer an explanation as to why they aren’t tested. Rape kits are collected as part of a forensic exam conducted on a victim after he or she is sexually assaulted. The kits look for DNA evidence to prove sexual abuse occurred.
As is, there is no state law in place mandating law enforcement test kits, and much of the decision to test a kit is left up to an individual law enforcement officer.
The Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab does have a policy in place that states there are two reason a kit may go untested. Either a victim requests his or her kit not be tested, or law enforcement determines no crime has been committed.
The legislation would implement a stipulation that if police decide a kit shouldn’t be tested, a county prosecutor must sign off on that detective’s decision.
According to the Bureau of Justice, someone in America is raped every two minutes, Rep. Melissa Wintrow said. Therefore, Wintrow said Wednesday morning that since the House last gathered Tuesday, about 700 Americans were raped.
“This bill won’t solve that problem,” Wintrow told the House. “But it will take seriously the voices of the victims, and that will send a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable.”
The Idaho State Police has no authority to mandate a law enforcement agency report the number of untested kits it collects, nor does the lab have the authority to mandate the police agency send the kit in for testing. The lab only tests the kits law enforcement submits.
All kits are tested at the ISP lab in Meridian, with the exceptions of those that are tested at an FBI lab.
The legislation would not mandate all kits be tested, but if law enforcement decided it did want to test a kit, the agency would have 30 days to turn it over to the lab, and the lab would then have 90 days to complete testing and entering the DNA code into a database.
Wintrow has said testing the kits can confirm a known perpetrator, confirm a victim’s story, or it can exonerate a wrongfully accused person.
Without code in statute, Wintrow said the state does not know where kits are nor does it know how many are collected versus actually tested.
If the legislation is approved by the Senate, the Idaho State Police would request $222,330 in funding to support the salaries of two new DNA analysts and other resources in the first year. In every year following, if the legislation passes, $207,300 would be requested.
The Idaho Chief’s of Police Association is in support of the bill, Wintrow said. The Idaho Sheriffs’ Association has not openly opposed the bill.
None of the state representatives debated Wintrow’s bill or questioned her before passing it Wednesday.
An Idaho Press-Tribune investigation over several months in 2015 and 2016 revealed that rape kit testing varies widely among police agencies in Idaho. The percentage of kits submitted for testing ranged from 10 percent in Nampa to 23 percent in Twin Falls to 80 percent in Meridian and 60 percent in Coeur d’Alene, according to the Press-Tribune’s investigation.