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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill to prevent future rape kit backlogs clears Florida Legislature



A bill aimed at preventing future backlogs of rape kits easily passed its last stop in the Florida Legislature and is now headed to the governor.

By a 114-0 vote, the Florida House agreed to a bill that would require local law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits they collect to a statewide crime lab for forensic testing within 30 days of a sexual assault offense is reported. Testing of the kits would have to be completed within 120 by crime labs.

"This legislation will help ensure future kits are tested expediently," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Wednesday.

That bill is in addition to more than $2.3 million in funding that has been included in the proposed state budget to pay for testing of older kits. Lawmakers have promised to spend $8.1 million over three years to clear the backlog.

A study released in January by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement discovered that at least 13,435 untested rape kits are in evidence rooms around the state, 25 percent more than previous estimates. Kits are not sent in for testing for numerous reasons, including a victim who first reported a crime refuses to participate in an investigation or a state attorney's office decides not to prosecute. In other cases, a suspect pleads guilty so the kit results are never needed for prosecution.

Public pressure has been growing for all rape kits to be submitted for testing because they could contain DNA evidence that can solve other cold cases and even identify serial sexual offenders. The FDLE reported that when the city of Houston tested 6,663 untested kits, they found 850 matches in a federal DNA database that have led to 29 convictions so far.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, passed the full Senate on Feb. 24 by a 36-0 vote.

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2016 4:02pm]


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