Rape kit bill wins passage in Ga. House committee

A bill that would require law enforcement to submit neglected sexual assault evidence to the state’s forensic labs won unanimous support in a House committee Wednesday afternoon.

House Bill 827, known as the Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act, would also launch a statewide count of the untested evidence, which is stored in packages known as ‘rape kits,’ so that agencies can find funding to test them. Investigators would be required to pick up new evidence within 96 hours from the hospitals and other facilities where it is collected, and transfer it to Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic labs within 30 days.

The legislation addresses complaints that the kits are being left untested even though they contain valuable DNA evidence. Law enforcement groups, victims’ advocates, and prosecutors have expressed their support. At Wednesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee, bill author State Rep. Scott Holcomb said hospitals are already hoping for additional legislation next year on how long to store kits belonging to victims who have not yet decided whether to prosecute.

“It is incredibly important that this pass this year,” said Holcomb, D-Atlanta. “This issue cannot wait until 2017.”

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year found that Grady Memorial Hospital had locked away more than 1,400 rape kits in file cabinets on the mistaken belief that federal medical privacy regulations barred them from giving the kits to law enforcement. Officers had also failed to pick up the evidence after it was collected.

Grady has since decided to release its kits, and a private lab will begin testing in the next few months with help from a $2 million federal grant.

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