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Texas House Unanimously Passes Dallas Rep’s Bill to End State Rape Kit Backlog

A U.S. military medical official learns how to use a sexual assault evidence collection kit in 2010.EXPAND
A U.S. military medical official learns how to use a sexual assault evidence collection kit in 2010.
Sgt. Rebecca Linder via WikiCommons
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Tuesday afternoon, all 144 of state Rep. Victoria Neave's colleagues available to vote on the Texas House floor agreed with the two-term Dallas Democrat: It's time, the state's lower chamber unanimously voted, to end Texas' rape kit backlog.

“This bill is for all the women who have waited for years for justice, for all the women who pursued justice and were not believed, for all the women whose rape kits sat untested,” Neave said on the House floor as she introduced her bill, according to The Dallas Morning News . “Sexual violence pays no mind to party, to wealth, to age or to color. Today we have an opportunity to say no more. Not one more rape kit untested, lost or destroyed. Not one more shot at justice left untested.”

Lavinia Masters, the Dallas rape victim for whom Neave's bill is named, said on Twitter that she was in tears as the bill passed.

"Now that is how you fight for Texas victims," she said.

Masters was raped at knifepoint at her Dallas home when she was 13. A rape kit containing a DNA sample from her attacker went untested for 20 years. When Dallas police finally tested it as part of a cold-case initiative, they matched the DNA to a man serving time in a Texas prison for another sexual assault, but the statute of limitations on the crime committed against Masters had run out.

In the years since, Masters became an advocate for quicker testing and better preservation of rape kits. Two years ago, she saw Neave pass a bill that allowed Texans renewing their driver's licenses or state ID cards contribute to a fund to chip away at the state's estimated 15,000 untested kits. Neave's bill this session is a more comprehensive fix.

If it passes the Texas Senate and is signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, House Bill 8 would create a timeline for testing for every new rape kit collected in Texas in order to prevent a future backlog. The bill would also pause the statute of limitations on any crime for which a kit is waiting to be tested and create uniform reporting standards for the kits, so their locations and testing statuses would be readily available to law enforcement agencies across the state.

In instances a victim decides that he or she doesn't want to press charges following a sexual assault, rape kits would be maintained for five years, rather than the two years they are currently kept, as well.

Shortly after Neave's bill passed the House on first reading Tuesday — it will get a final sign-off Wednesday before heading to the Senate — Abbott signaled his support for the bill, calling its passage "excellent news." 

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