The next Texas legislative session kicks off in less than a week, and one issue facing lawmakers will be how to address the backlog of about 15,000 untested rape kits. One solution lawmakers proposed during the last session was to give Texans the option to donate to a fund for kit testing when applying for, or renewing a driver’s license or vehicle registration. Texans did donate, and the state collected more than $560,000.
But the Dallas Morning News recently reported that only one local agency so far has applied to use those funds.
Texas Rep. Victoria Neave, a Democrat from Dallas who led the bipartisan last session for the rape kit testing donations, is still optimistic the funds will be used.
“We know that the need is there, and I’m confident that the dollars will be utilized,” Neave says.
Neave says cost is the primary reason for the backlog of untested rape kits, and she says around 200,000 people have donated to the fund since the option became available.
She says part of the issue is that many local agencies likely didn’t know the money is available.
“We’re gonna be working with the governor’s office whom I understand is gonna be re-opening the application period,” Neave says.
Also, Neave says local agencies want a more permanent fix to the rape kit backlog, and that would include better funding for technology. She says laboratories often don’t have the technology to keep up with the demand.
“We need to fund this issue, it absolutely needs to be a priority for our state,” Neave says.
She says Republicans and Democrats support tackling the rape kit backlog, and Gov. Greg Abbott has also made the issue a priority for the upcoming legislative session.
In the upcoming session, Neave says her goal is to look at the entire process of sexual assault justice to see where the problems are.
“From the moment that a women comes forward to report that she’s a victim – or a survivor – of rape, to making sure that we look at all of the different ways along the pipeline where we can create solutions,” Neave says.
As for the donated money, Neave says it’s still useful, and it’s also evidence that Texans want the state to deal with the problem of rape kit backlogs.
“It provides the impetus for the state to really look at long-term funding solutions to get the backlog tested,” Neave says.
Written by Caroline Covington.