Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and advocates are pushing for new legislation that would lay out a framework for collecting, testing and tracking evidence from sexual assault kits.
The legislation, which also seeks to prevent future backlogs of untested kits, received a public hearing Thursday before the Senate Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts Committee.
"Justice should never be delayed because a sexual assault kit wasn’t submitted," Kaul told lawmakers on the panel.
According to the description in one of the bills, there's no statutory procedure in Wisconsin for collecting and processing the kits. That bill — which focuses on providing a timeline and path for the kits — would require nurses and doctors who collect evidence of sexual assault to notify law enforcement within 24 hours if the victim wants to report it.
The kit, after being collected by law enforcement within 72 hours, would then be sent to the state crime lab within 14 days, and if the victim consents, it would be analyzed, processed and sent to a law enforcement agency to store for a certain period of time depending on the circumstances. If the victim doesn't want to report it, the kit would also have to be sent to the state crime lab within 72 hours after it was collected for storage, a duration that could last up to 10 years.
That decade-long period, co-author and Democratic state Rep. Melissa Sargent said, would give survivors of sexual assault “the respect to report when they are ready.”
After the bill passes, Kaul said the Department of Justice would do outreach to law enforcement and sexual assault nurse examiners to make them aware of the changes and new guidelines.
The other piece of legislation would require the DOJ to create a tracking system the provide victims access to information about the status of any sexual assault kit they have provided.
The bills come as Kaul and his GOP predecessor AG Brad Schimel sought to eliminate the sexual assault kit backlog in the state. More than 6,000 kits dating back to the 1980's went untested until 2016 when Schimel pushed to begin contacting victims who submitted the kits and analyzing the ones they received permission to test. Testing then began in 2017.
So far, testing has been completed on more than 4,400 kits, according to the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative website. Charges have been filed against at least nine people so far tied to DOJ's work, and officials announced the first conviction tied to the efforts at the end of August.