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State lawmakers look to take long-awaited action on untested rape kits

The bill comes after untested and mishandled rape kits have gained attention statewide.

State lawmakers are stepping in to help address untested and mishandled rape kits in Minnesota after recent reports have shed light on the magnitude of the problem.

Authored by Rep. Marion O’Neil (R-Maple Lake), the bill would create a standard process for the collection of rape kits throughout the state. Under the legislation, law enforcement would have 60 days submit a rape kit to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after being tested in a laboratory.

"I think this is an amazing opportunity for us to stand with victims and survivors of rape," O’Neil said at a Tuesday testimony.

The bill’s roll out comes after the Minneapolis Police Department announced the agency had discovered 1,700 untested rape kits in November. MPD had previously stated that number was less than 200 in 2015.

Under the bill, a victim must first consent to their rape kit being tested. Law enforcement would then be required to submit these unrestricted kits for testing.

Restricted kits would go straight from the hospital to the BCA to be stored for 30 months. During that time, a victim can choose to make their kit unrestricted and available for testing.

Having these kits stored in a centralized manner will help prevent kits from  being lost or otherwise mishandled, O’Neil said.

“No more lost kits, no more counting kits, no more wondering where it is and if it’s been destroyed,” she said at the Tuesday hearing.

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The bill also mandates rape kit data be stored in a central online database that would allow victims to track the status of their kit. 

Jude Foster of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault said the actual investigation process also needs to be examined to prevent future mistakes. 

Foster said a program called the the Statewide Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, in partnership with the BCA, is currently working with law enforcement in communities statewide to address issues with the investigation process that can lead to mishandling or rape kits.

“It’s not just about testing those kits. We’re really trying to identify those barriers in the investigations and the criminal justice system,” she said in a testimony. 

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