DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Governor Greg Abbott has signed a bill aimed at eliminating the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in Texas.
Abbott signed the measure in Dallas on Tuesday along with four other bills designed to help victims of sex crimes.
The new law mandates law enforcement agencies conduct an audit to determine all of the untested rape kits in the state and that they set timelines for their analysis. Democratic Rep. Victoria Neave says it’s unclear how many untested rape kits exist.
Abbott says the measure will better address and provide justice for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
It will also require that evidence be kept for at least 40 years or until the statute of limitations runs out, depending on which is longer.
Right now, there are thousands of untested rape kits in Texas that have not been tested. The state doesn’t even have an exact count.
But that will change under House Bill 8, that Governor Abbott signed this afternoon in Dallas.
The bill is called the Lavinia Masters Act, named after the woman who has championed this issue.
She was raped at the age of 13, and her rape kit sat on a shelf at a police department for 21 years — which meant her abuser could never be prosecuted for the crime — the statute of limitations had run out.
“To finally get to this point, I said I wasn’t going to cry, but to get to this point, and I get to live it and see it and I’m still alive and breathing and healthy and able to enjoy it and help other victims be able to survive – that’s what it’s about,” said Masters at the signing ceremony.
“Thank you for your courage, thank you for your commitment, thank you for standing up and providing a voice for others,” Gov. Abbott said to Masters during the signing ceremony. “I can assure you I do not think I would be signing this law today, but for you and your tireless effort and commitment.”
The law will provide more than $50 million to eliminate the backlog in untested rape kits, and hire and train people to test them.
Both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers made this happen — which was a priority for the Governor.
“It means doing what needs to be done to test all of these rape kits that need to be tested to find out evidence that will allow us to prosecute anyone who’s committed the crime of sexual assault so that we can get them off the street,.” Gov. Abbott said.
Governor Abbott also signed four other bills related to this issue and to combat human trafficking.
Republican Senator Jane Nelson said funding will make a difference and Democratic Representative Victoria Neave said the message to women is that your voices are being heard and that the state is legislating justice.
“I have never seen a session where we’ve paid more attention to domestic violence to human trafficking and sex assault than we have this session. And I also want to thank all of the victims who came and spoke out – it made a huge difference,” said Sen. Nelson.
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