Texas close to ensuring a rape case doesn’t end without a DNA test

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If a proposal crosses the lawmaking finish line this week, there would be no statute of limitation for rape without DNA evidence testing first. 

House Bill 8 already passed the Texas House 145 to 0 and could be voted on in the Senate as early as Monday. It would then head to Gov. Greg Abbott for him to sign or veto. 

The bill is named for Lavinia Masters, a Dallas woman raped at knife-point when she was 13 years old. Her rape kit went untested for 21 years.

When Wendy Davis was a state Senator in 2011, she had a hunch there was a problem and went looking. She found one. She filed a bill that counted the number of untested rape kits across the state and the state found nearly 20,000 untested kits.

“This represented women, real women, and some men, who had been raped,” said Wendy Davis, now the founder of Deeds Not Words, an organization advocating on women’s issues and to get women in leadership positions. 

Over the next eight years, more people were convinced local problems should become a state priority. Democrat State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, this session teamed up with Republican Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to change state law. Now, the statute of limitations won’t start unless a DNA kit is tested; then, it will stretch for a decade.

The author of the bill, Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, would initiate an audit to determine the number, status, and location of all rape kits in the state of Texas. 

“Every rape kit is not just a number — is not just a number sitting on a shelf. Every rape kit represents a survivor. Every rape kit tells a story,” Neave said earlier in the legislative session when she introduced her bill. 

“There are too many lives at stake for us to be complacent,” she said, adding that there were more than 18,000 reported rapes in 2017.

Davis says without outside advocates pushing for – and sometimes filing lawsuits to encourage – change in local and state government, House Bill 8 would not have happened.

“The real weight of this work has been done by survivor and survivor support groups who have rightly insisted that justice be served,” said Davis.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate soon. It already passed the Texas House 145 to 0 as one of the priorities of Speaker Dennis Bonnen. He spoke told us he was proud of the work this fall on the issue.

“Requiring that you within 90 days test any new rape kit so there never will be an embarrassing two-year backlog on rape kits in Texas,” said Speaker Bonnen.

The $50 million will go to the Department of Public Safety from the state budget to help test kits for law enforcement statewide.

This policy would also require the Department of Public Safety to audit and find out how many of these kits end up in the national database on sexual assault. Advocates hope the evidence in one kit can help cases elsewhere.

According to a state analysis of the proposal, Texas would be required to retain the content of a biological sexual assault exam kit for 40 years or until the statute of limitations for rape expires — whether someone is apprehended or not. It would also require the evidence of a sexual assault or other sex offense to be analyzed within 90 days. 

A crime lab would also be required to submit a quarterly report on the number of kits not submitted for analysis by law enforcement agencies. 

HB 8 would take effect on September 1, 2019, if signed into law.

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