Future rape kits would be tested under Minnesota legislation

Minnesota lawmakers say they have a plan in place to address untested rape kits.

Minnesota lawmakers say they have a plan to get all of the state's sexual assault kits tested, concerned that the current setup isn't fair to victims.

Over the past five years, police departments have revealed that thousands of rape kits went untested or were destroyed or lost. Last year, the Minneapolis Police Department acknowledged there were 1,700 untested kits in the city.

Under bipartisan legislation, law enforcement agencies would be required to submit all future sexual assault kits for testing. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would face longer storage requirements, and Minnesota would create a database so victims could track their kits.

"We believe that it is time to stand up for victims of sexual violence," said state Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake and the bill's House author. "This bill will finally test all unrestricted rape kits. Every single one. Every one will be accounted for. Every one will be tested. Finally victims will have justice."

At a House Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, members of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault testified in favor of the legislation. BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said he supported the bill, too. No one voiced opposition.

"I think this is a good step forward for Minnesota," Evans said.

Federal and local money is paying for law enforcement agencies across the state to chip away at their backlog of rape kits. But that has led to another issue: a shortage of scientists to do the testing.

The legislation calls for additional BCA analysts, toxicologists and administrators, but the costs are left blank in the bill text. O'Neill said lawmakers would know a cost estimate from the BCA within days, and said lawmakers will not stick law enforcement with extra work without providing additional funding.

"Of course this legislation would not pass unless the finances went along with it," she said. "We would never do an unfunded mandate down the line."

If a rape victim doesn't want her sexual assault kit tested right away, the BCA would be required to store it for 30 months. 

Jude Foster, policy coordinator for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the storage requirements and tracking was important.

"We only know what law enforcement has been reporting," Foster said. "That’s one of the reasons why we want a statewide tracking system so we make sure we don’t have those surprise backlogs."

State Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, is the bill's Senate author. She said several Republican senators were supporters of the bill.