Mid-Year Review: State Legislative Reform in 2017

Last year, Joyful Heart launched a national policy campaign with an ambitious goal: to enact comprehensive rape kit reform in all 50 states by 2020. Over the past six months, we have seen an unprecedented number of rape kit reform bills introduced in state legislatures across the country.

Joyful Heart measures rape kit reform through six key pillars. To eliminate the backlog of unsubmitted rape kits and ensure access to justice for survivors of sexual assault, each state must enact laws that:

  1. Require statewide audits of untested kits;
  2. Mandate the submission and testing of all backlogged kits;
  3. Require the swift submission and testing of all newly collected kits;
  4. Establish victims’ rights to notice of updates in the status of their kits;
  5. Create tracking systems for rape kits; and
  6. Provide state funding to implement these reforms.

Last week, when the governor signed a law requiring a statewide tracking system for rape kits, Texas became the first state to enact all six pillars of comprehensive rape kit reform into law.

Since January 2017, 73 rape kit reform bills have been introduced in 33 states. So far, 14 rape kit reform laws have been enacted in 12 states, and rape kit reform resolutions, which are non-binding legislative statements, have been adopted in four states.

Audit Untested Kits

The first step in comprehensive rape kit reform is to conduct a statewide audit of untested kits. In 2017, Arizona and Utah both enacted laws mandating annual audits of rape kits held by law enforcement agencies and crime labs statewide. This week, the Alaska governor signed a bill requiring a one-time audit of untested rape kits held by law enforcement agencies.

Since January, state officials have also pursued a variety of alternative approaches to ensure one-time audits are conducted:

  • In April 2017, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an executive order mandating a one-time, statewide audit of untested kits;
  • The Indiana Senate adopted a resolution urging the State Police to conduct a one-time audit of untested rape kits; and
  • The Pennsylvania Senate adopted a resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a one-time audit of untested rape kits and evaluate compliance with the state’s 2015 backlogged kit testing law.

To date, 22 states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws requiring audits of untested rape kits.

Test Backlogged Kits

After an audit is completed, states must move to test all backlogged kits. Currently, eight states require the testing of backlogged kits. So far this year, no new laws requiring the submission and testing of backlogged kits have been enacted.

Test All New Kits

Swift testing of all rape kits will prevent future backlogs, and states must pass laws to mandate testing of all newly collected kits. Since January 2017, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah have enacted laws mandating the submission and testing of all newly collected rape kits.

The timely testing of all newly collected kits is currently mandated by law in 20 states and Washington, D.C.

Establish Victims’ Rights to Notice

Ensuring survivors’ rights to information about their cases is a critical element of comprehensive rape kit reform. Since January, Idaho, Maryland, Virginia, and Vermont have all passed laws strengthening victims’ access to information about the status and location of their rape kits. Several of these laws also include provisions requiring kits be preserved for longer periods of time and requiring law enforcement to notify survivors in advance of planned destruction of their kits, regardless of testing status.

Notification rights for rape survivors are on the books in 13 states and Washington, D.C.

Track Rape Kits

Tracking systems for rape kits promote transparency throughout the kit collection and testing process and provide a way for survivors to check the status of their kits. Last year, Washington and Idaho became the first states to enact legislation requiring the establishment of statewide tracking systems for rape kits.

This year, Utah, Nevada, and Texas enacted bills mandating the creation of tracking systems. In Illinois, a bill creating a commission to develop a plan for a statewide tracking system is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Fund Rape Kit Reform

State funding is essential to ensuring meaningful implementation of rape kit reform laws. In 2017, Arizona and Utah each appropriated $1.2 million to test rape kits, and New York allocated $500,000. Nevada legislators appropriated $3 million to aid labs in reducing the backlog of untested kits, and Washington legislators allocated funding to create a grant program to support local rape kit backlog reduction efforts (the final amount is pending, as the state budget session is still underway).

To date, 13 states and Washington, D.C. have appropriated some level of funding to implement rape kit reform.

The Road Ahead

While we have seen extraordinary progress in rape kit reform efforts this year, we still have a lot of work to do. Joyful Heart staff will continue advocating for the passage of rape kit reform bills to ensure all kits are counted, tested, and tracked, and survivors everywhere have access to information about their cases.

We will not stop until there is comprehensive rape kit reform in every state.

One down, only 49 states left to go.

-By Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy, June 20, 2017

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of