Texas bill could help fund testing backlog of rape kits with public donations

Texas lawmakers are weighing a bill that would help raise money to clear the backlog of rape kits in the state.
HB 1729 would make it possible for those applying for or renewing a driver’s license to contribute one dollar or more toward testing evidence in sexual assault cases.

Read DPS will re-open and operate APD's forensic DNA lab

“I really believe that as Texans we have compassion and just one dollar here or there could really make a big difference to help bring justice to victims and women all across our state,” said Rep. Victoria Neave, (D) Mesquite, who filed the bill.  

So far, the bill has not faced any opposition on either side of the aisle. It passed the House Thursday morning and is headed to the Senate.

“Right here in Texas, we have thousands of untested rape kits and we know most women don't even report the crime, so when they actually get to the point of reporting the crime then undergoing an invasive four to six hour exam, we owe it to them as Texans to make sure that we get those rape kits tested,” Neave said. 

Read APD's DNA mixture could have affected hundreds of cases

One study shows her plan would generate more than $1 million per year to clear the backlog, but, with about 20,000 untested kits statewide, it would fall about $19 million short of fixing the problem.
Amanda Lewis with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault said testing the kits shouldn't fall on the public.

“I think it's a great way, a creative way to get people involved and supporting survivors of sexual assault, but ultimately it's the government's role to find the money to test these kits,” Lewis said. 

By not prioritizing adequate funds to clear the backlog, Lewis said lawmakers are sending a dangerous message to rape victims.

“I think what it sends to survivors is that they're not a priority and they're expecting, when they go and get these kits done, that the system is going to work and everything's going to be done in a timely manner, and when that's not happening, I think, yeah, it sends a message that these systems are not meant for them and they're not supported and they can't count on those kits to be tested,” said Lewis. 

Lewis' fear is that the longer it takes to test rape kits, the less likely future victims could be to come forward and those that do may give up on pursuing charges. She said that while HB 1729 could make a minor dent in the backlog, it's not a long-term solution.