Atlanta, GA, March 24, 2016 – by Trey Benton – What started out as House Bill 827, later becoming Senate Bill 304, the Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act, a.k.a. The Rape Kit Bill, passed in the final minutes of the 2016 Legislative Session.
“I’m very proud that this important legislation passed,” said State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-HD81), the bill’s author. “I’m extremely grateful for all of the help and support along the way.”
Despite numerous news reports that uncovered a serious backlog of untested kits, Senator Renee Unterman (R-SD45) decided to single handedly block the bill saying that if there was actually a problem, she would have authored a bill herself. She said the issue of untested rape kits would be all cleared up via a $1.8 million Federal Grant. She received widespread criticism of that decision.
Unterman, who is also the Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, would not allow Holcomb’s Bill (HB827 at the time) a committee hearing even though it had strong bipartisan support and a unanimous House vote.
But Legislators out maneuvered Unterman when Senate Bill 304, sponsored by Senator Elena Parent (D-SD42) originally dealing with guns and mental health, was literally gutted to become the vehicle for Holcomb’s rape test kit language. This move also meant the measure would no longer have to travel through Unterman’s committee, sending the bill directly to the Senate Floor.
“The passage of this bill is a victory for the pursuit of justice for victims of sexual assault,” said Senator Parent. “Congratulations to all of the advocates who have worked so hard to pass this legislation.”
The passage of SB-304 requires care providers to notify local law enforcement when they receive a sexual assault kit, and for law enforcement to deliver the kit to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) within 30 days. SB-304 also requires care providers and law enforcement to inventory and deliver all untested sexual assault kits to the GBI in order to audit the number of untested kits, and pave the way for their ultimate forensic examination.
In an earlier Press Conference, Holcomb said the Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act was drafted with input from the key stakeholders including Law Enforcement, care providers and victims rights advocates and only applies to victims who want the kits to move forward in to the criminal justice system. “We were very sensitive to, and respected the wishes of those victims to remain anonymous,” he said.
“The victims go through such an unbelievably horrible experience in terms of being victims of a crime, and then they have to go to a hospital and go through an incredibly invasive process for the rape kit to be taken, for that DNA evidence to be taken.” said Holcomb. “It is shameful for us to then, not ensure that each and every one of those [kits] moves on and gets tested, and that we take whatever action is necessary in terms of criminal justice and prosecution. We also know, that forcing the processing of these kits has led to the prosecution of serial rapists.”
With the passing of SB-304 and Gov. Deal’s eventual signature, there will finally be a law on the books that provides a mandated protocol for rape test kit processing and proper testing.