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Olympia Looks for Way to Fund Nation's First Rape Kit Tracking System

As of July 2015, Washington State Police estimated the state had 6,000 untested rape kits. (Brylie Oxley/Wikimedia Commons)
As of July 2015, Washington State Police estimated the state had 6,000 untested rape kits. (Brylie Oxley/Wikimedia Commons)
March 10, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Lawmakers in Olympia made history last week when they passed a bill that would set up a system for tracking sexual assault kits.

However, the bill doesn't yet have budgetary legs to stand on.

House Bill 2530 passed with one week left in the legislative session, leaving it in the middle of a budget showdown between the House, the Senate, and Gov. Jay Inslee.

Still, Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), who originally proposed the bill, believes the Senate will find the funds for it.

"I think there's such a strong commitment. It's very bipartisan," says Orwall. "It's such an important issue, I think, to women and keeping our communities safe, so I do feel confident it'll move forward."

Orwall originally proposed taxing strip club admissions to raise the $3.7 million senators want to allocate to the tracking system, but that proposal was nixed.

The tracking system will allow both victims and law enforcement to monitor the status of sexual assault kits, which are supposed to be sent to forensic labs for DNA testing.

However, the state already has at least 6,000 kits that law enforcement had not sent for testing as of July 2015. The bill sets aside a budget to assist state police in testing this backlog of kits.

Senator Ann Rivers (R-La Center), who proposed a similar bill and ultimately worked with Orwall to help pass the House bill, says the new approach will give victims of rape more confidence in the justice system.

"The primary thing for me is it gives victims a measure of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation for them," she says.

Rivers also feels certain the tracking system will find funding.

The senator adds the bill could play a useful role in catching serial rapists.

"The main point I want to make about this bill is that we have our foot on the gas," says Rivers. "We are not letting up."

The governor has threatened to veto every bill, including this one, if lawmakers can't agree on a budget.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA