On Monday, Assembly Republicans introduced a new bill to prevent a future backlog of sexual assault kits. That bill is similar to a bipartisan bill introduced last May, which is stuck in committee and hasn’t received a hearing.
Last year the backlog was cleared, when four-thousand rape-kits were tested, thanks to a federal grant.
Ilse Knecht is the Director of Policy and Advocacy of Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization that works to eliminate sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. She says that rape kit reform will make Wisconsin safer.
“So, the good news is that there’s been a lot of work going on in Wisconsin. Fortunately, under Attorney General Schimel and now Attorney General Kaul, that backlog has been addressed,” Knecht says.
“But what we’re talking about now is the newly collected kits, kits that are coming in today from survivors who are reporting sexual assault now. Enacting a law requiring the submission of rape kits is the only way to prevent a backlog from ever happening [again].”
In May, two bills were introduced to the state assembly. The first bill would create state-wide procedures for handling and storing rape kits. And the second would create a system for survivors to track their kits’ progress. The bills were written with input from health professionals and law enforcement.
In October, the state senate passed a version of the bills, but the assembly versions are stuck in committee, and haven’t been voted on or even received a public hearing. And one of the bills, AB 214, is supported by a majority of the Assembly.
Representative David Steffen of Green Bay wrote AB 214 last year. He’s also the author of a new bill on rape kit reformed introduced earlier this week.
The new bill adds in new provisions. It would require police to notify Immigration and Customes Enforcement of any undocumented immigrants arrested for assault, and it would allow students who are victims of sexual assault to switch to a private school. The bill would also require nurses to inform survivors of their legal rights.
Steffen says the new bill was written to please his party.
“My goal is to have this bill with all of its elements have an opportunity to become law,” Steffen says.
“As the clock has been ticking and the barriers to its ultimate passage are still present, [there was] a necessity to work with other people outside of those people who are part of the front end to get this done.”
The timeline of the new bill has been unusually quick. It was circulated for co-sponsorship last week and was introduced on Monday. Today, the Assembly Committee on Health held a public hearing, and democrats voiced their frustration about the previous bill not being considered.
Representative Lisa Subeck is a member of the Committee on Health. She questioned Steffen on the hold up on the old bill.
“Who is holding sexual assault victims hostage? Is it you? Is it others in your caucus? Is it the speaker? Let’s get this thing to the floor. It has majority support as cosponsors,” Subeck says.
“It’s absurd that we don’t have it there, so who is behind that?”
Attorney General Josh Kaul says that this bill wasn’t written to pass, and urged the committee to move forward on the original bill introduced in May.
“It’s clear what’s going on here. This is an effort to kill effective reform legislation,” Kaul says.
“This is not an effort to get meaningful legislation passed and does not have input from subject matter experts. It injects divisive issues into a topic where there is broad bipartisan support, so it’s clear what’s going on here.”
If lawmakers want any rape kit reform law this session, they only have a couple months to make it happen