Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sunday that mandates a statewide audit of all untested sexual assault evidence kits, commonly referred to as “rape kits.” Yet on the same day, he vetoed another bill that passed unanimously through the state Senate and Assembly, and would have mandated that rape kits be processed within 120 days.
Because of the backlog of untested rape kits in California, Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, introduced AB 3118, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019. The audit required by Chiu’s bill must be completed by July 1, 2019. Its companion bill, SB 1449, authored by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, did not pass the governor’s desk. However, Leyva is planning to reintroduce the bill on the first day of session next year.
“We have a backlog of untested rape kits in California, and it is really a disgrace,” said Jennifer Kwart, a spokesperson for Chiu.
Kwart and Leyva said both AB 3118 and SB 1449 were introduced to help achieve justice for sexual assault survivors. Kwart added that Chiu is ready to help and support Leyva when she reintroduces her bill next year.
Kwart said it is important for local jurisdictions to get accurate counts of their untested rape kits because without this information, the state government does not know how much money to allocate for testing the kits. Additionally, if local jurisdictions do not have accurate counts, they cannot apply for federal grants to help pay for testing backlogged rape kits.
Berkeley Police Department currently has no backlog of rape kits — the department sends all kits for processing immediately, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White. Alameda County, as a whole, has already counted the number of backlogged kits in the region, according to Alameda County Superior Court spokesperson Teresa Drenick. Drenick also said District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, who sponsored both Chiu and Leyva’s bills, will continue to work with Leyva.
In a letter issued Sunday, Gov. Brown said that although he supported the goal of SB 1449, he believed that time should be allowed for the audit mandated in Chiu’s bill to be completed.
“We will always have a backlog unless we change the way the law is written,” Leyva said.
Currently, California law states that law enforcement agencies “should” send newly collected rape kits to the laboratory within 20 days, and the laboratories “should” test the kits within 120 days — Leyva’s bill would have made this suggestion into a requirement, by changing “should” to “shall.”
The rape kit backlog is a nationwide issue, Kwart said.
“We are long overdue supporting victims of rape and until we can make sure that every rape test is tested, we are telling victims of rape that they don’t matter,” Leyva said.