Senate bill requiring prompt rape kit tests heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk

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A bill requiring law enforcement agencies and laboratories to promptly analyze all newly collected rape kit evidence advanced to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk Friday.

The state Senate and Assembly unanimously approved SB 1449 authored by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, according to a press release provided by Leyva’s office.

Under the legislation, newly collected rape kits would have to be sent to a lab within 20 days and tested no later than 120 days after receipt in order to prevent backlogs of forensic evidence.

“For too long, justice for survivors of sexual assault in California has depended on the survivor’s zip code,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, in a statement.With the Governor’s signature, SB 1449 will put an end to that practice, and take important next steps to test all rape kits. That means justice for survivors, accountability for serial predators and safer communities for all.”

A 2016 San Francisco Chronicle investigation found that Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, did not test a rape kit from the sexual assault of two Berkeley teenagers for six years. According to BPD spokesperson Byron White, BPD cleared its backlog about two years ago. Currently, a sample is sent directly to the lab for every rape kit, White said.

Alongside SB 1449, Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, introduced AB 3118 to address the backlog of untested rape kits. This bill passed the Assembly floor Aug. 27 and also moved to Brown’s desk, according to a press release provided by Chiu’s office. AB 3118 would require a statewide audit of untested rape kits and require all law enforcement agencies to report the findings of the audit to the California Department of Justice.

“Sexual assault survivors deserve justice, and a rape kit sitting on a shelf collecting dust is not justice,” Chiu said in the press release. “To truly address the backlog, we need to know how many untested kits exist in California, and we must test all kits moving forward to ensure we do not increase that backlog.”

One million dollars will be available to fund the audit required under AB 3118, and $6.5 million will be used to test the kits, according to the press release.

While Leyva does not think the backlogs are intentional, she said rape kit tests need to be made a priority. After Brown’s support of SB 813, which eliminated the statute of limitations for rape in California, Leyva said she is very hopeful that the governor will sign the new bills.

“California is always a leader, and we need to lead in testing rape kits,” Leyva said. “We need to make sure we’re showing the men and women of the state of California that when you’re raped, we got your back, we take it seriously and then lead the way for the rest of the country as well.”

 

Jenny Weng is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jennyweng1999.