New rape kit law takes effect with New Year in Minnesota

One of the new Minnesota laws taking effect with the New Year tightens up the testing of evidence from sexual assaults.

Lawmakers in the October special session passed a $4.5 million dollar appropriation to allow the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to expand its testing of unrestricted sexual assault examination kits, and for the storage of restricted sexual assault examination kits. They are often referred to as rape kits.

The kits are used to collect DNA evidence from a sexual assault victim in the hospital.  If the victim wants to move forward with DNA testing and possible prosecution, the collected samples are called an unrestricted test kit.

"This is a kit that the woman has said yes, I want it tested, and I want to move forward," said the bill’s House author, Representative Marion O’Neill.  "And so now that kit must go from the hospital and it has to go to the law enforcement agency.  They will kind of log it in.  And then it goes directly to the BCA, and all of those kits will now be tested."

In past many rape kits did not get tested if the perpetrator is known and claims the encounter was consensual.  The new law requires all unrestricted test kits to be sent to the BCA within 60 days for DNA testing.  The DNA evidence is then entered into the national Combined DNR Index System, also known by the acronym CODIS.

Rep. O’Neill believes by entering the DNA evidence into CODIS, it could help law enforcement tie suspects to other crimes.

"And now you can find connections between cases, and you can find connections even to cases that you wouldn’t have thought of before, like burglary and home invasions and things like that," said O’Neill.

But the legislation also firms up the rules for what’s called restricted sexual assault kits.  These are kits of evidence from victims who haven’t yet decided if they want their case to move forward.  Under the new law, the BCA must now store these kits for 30 months to give the victims time to decide if they want the evidence processed for possible prosecution.

Rep. O’Neill says stakeholder discussions initially talked about an 18-month storage timeframe.  But she ultimately wanted to give victims two years and six months from their trauma date to decide whether they wanted their evidence testing completed.

"But before they do that, I have really asked both law enforcement and the BCA to please reach out to the victim and do kind of a follow-up to say, OK, we’ve got this many months left of the kit’s storage.  Do you want to move forward with the case or not?  And so the victim is going to be much involved than they have been in the past," said O’Neill.

The new law also requires the BCA to create a searchable online database so the victim can track the progress or their rape kit much like we can do with a package from UPS.

Also taking effect on January 1, a new law that legislators call a continuity of care provision.  The law says if someone changes health care insurers, the new underwriter must comply with any prior authorizations for health care services for the first 60 days after enrollment while a new utilization review is conducted.