Today the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the Debbie Smith Act of 2019, which reauthorizes the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program. The nationwide backlog of untested rape kits is a national scandal with tragic consequences for sexual assault victims. Thousands of rape kits currently sit untested in labs and on police storage shelves across the nation – each one of them holding the potential to solve a crime, imprison a rapist and provide a victim with the justice they deserve. The Debbie Smith Act was first signed into law in 2004 and provides local and state crime laboratories with funding to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved crimes, especially rape kits.

Ahead of the vote, Senator Josh Hawley, an original cosponsor of the legislation, discussed the importance of eliminating the backlog of DNA kits. Senator Hawley said, “This legislation is a crucial part of making sure that [rape] kits get tested, that these cases are solved, that perpetrators are prosecuted, and that criminals are finally sent to prison.”

When he was Attorney General of Missouri, Hawley conducted a statewide audit of rape kits where he found that the state had more than 5,000 untested kits. The state was then able to secure the necessary federal funding to tackle this backlog and to begin to set up a statewide rape kit tracking system. A video of his remarks and transcript are below:

Let me just say a few words if I could about the Debbie Smith Act which I am very proud to cosponsor.

"This is a bill that authorizes crucial grant funding to help state crime labs work through their backlogs of untested DNA samples, including rape kits.

"And as attorney general of Missouri, I had to confront this problem head on. My office conducted the first-ever statewide survey of untested rape kits in Missouri, and we found over 5,000 kits that had not been tested.

"It is completely unacceptable that survivors of this horrendous crime – who voluntarily undergo the often invasive, certainly very difficult, effort of getting a rape kit completed – would then have those kits not tested and not used. And as a consequence, their attackers and perpetrators would go unprosecuted.

"So, fortunately the state of Missouri was able to secure federal funding necessary to tackle this backlog and to begin to set up a statewide rape kit tracking system. And we did this so that survivors would no longer be forced to wait years and years before they get the justice they deserve.

"But too many criminals in many other states continue to walk the streets because of the huge backlog, nationally, of untested DNA rape kits. And this legislation is a crucial part of making sure that those kits get tested, that these cases are solved, that perpetrators are prosecuted, and that criminals are finally sent to prison.

"So, I just want to thank Senator Cornyn for his leadership on this, thank the many colleagues on both sides of the aisle for joining in this fight. And thank you, Mr. Chairman."

Senator Josh Hawley

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