House passes bill aimed at reducing rape kit backlog

Oct 24, 2019
In The News

The House on Wednesday passed legislation that would reauthorize federal funds aimed at reducing rape kit backlogs nationwide.

The measure, known as the Debbie Smith Act, authorizes funding for crime labs to process DNA evidence, requires states to create a plan to reduce the rape kit backlog and helps fund DNA training for law enforcement.

The House passed an amended version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in January, in a 402-1 vote. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) voted against the measure, which now heads back to the Senate.

The Senate unanimously passed similar legislation on May 16.

The original bill was drafted by Maloney in response to the experience of Debbie Smith, who waited five years for her rape kit to be tested after being attacked in 1989. The test results led to the arrest and conviction of her attacker.

“The years I spent waiting for justice can never be returned to me,” Debbie Smith said at a press conference last month, when she called for Congress to reauthorize the measure.

“I was always afraid and constantly looking over my shoulder. But other victims do not have to go through this,” she said. “On behalf of the many rape victims who have reached out to me and for the thousands more awaiting justice, I thank our champions in the House and the Senate for prioritizing this important legislation.”

Former President George W. Bush signed the Debbie Smith Act into law in 2004. The measure was reauthorized in 2008, and again in 2014. It expired Sept. 30.

The Senate version of the bill was introduced on March 14 by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

On Thursday, Cornyn praised the House passage of the bill, while also taking a jab at Democrats.

“This funding to test kits sitting on shelves can put violent offenders behind bars and give survivors peace of mind that their attacker is off the streets,” said Cornyn. “I’m glad House Democrats have finally stopped playing politics with sexual assault victims.”