FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky would test rape kits faster and collect more DNA samples used to test those kits under a pair of bills moving through the state Senate.
A rape kit is a collection of physical evidence from a victim after a rape has occurred. Police check that evidence against a national database of DNA profiles to look for suspects. Right now, it takes about eight months for a rape kit to be tested in Kentucky because of a lack of funding and staff. A bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday would shorten that to 90 days by July 2018 and 60 days by 2020, but only if lawmakers pay for it.
The database police used to check those rape kits against includes DNA profiles from Kentuckians, but only if they have been convicted of a felony. A new bill that narrowly cleared the committee Thursday would require Kentucky to collect DNA samples of anyone arrested for a felony. It would significantly increase the number of people in the database from Kentucky and, supporters hope, lead to more convictions of people before they can commit more crimes.
The rape kit backlog bill was approved unanimously and has wide support in both the House and the Senate. State officials say they already are 18,000 samples behind in collecting DNA from convicted felons. But Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget proposal includes an additional $4.5 million for the state crime lab that would presumably help the lab meet the new deadlines.
But the bill to increase DNA collections faces significant opposition because of privacy concerns. Thursday, lawmakers heard emotional testimony from Michelle Kuiper, who was raped as a college student at the University of Louisville in 1994. Her attacker was not caught until 2011 with the help of DNA evidence.
After listening to the testimony, Republican Sen. Dan Seum of Louisville said he could not support the bill.
“I understand your pain, but I can tell you … that over the years this government through its intrusion has done more damage to me than all these criminals out there ever did,” he said. “That sounds radical, but the founding fathers said never trust this government. That’s why we have the Fifth Amendment, that’s why we have the Second Amendment.”
Kuiper began crying silently after Seum’s comments, telling a reporter after the meeting that until her attacker was sentenced, “my life wasn’t free.”
Other senators, including Democratic Sen. Robin Webb and Republican Sen. Wil Schroeder, said they opposed the bill because the DNA collection was “too intrusive” and would violate people’s constitutional rights. The bill does allow for people to apply for their DNA sample to be removed and destroyed if the person is acquitted or not prosecuted. This would also apply if a person was arrested for a felony but was later convicted of a misdemeanor.
JayAnn Sepich, director of the nonprofit group DNA Saves that has worked to pass similar legislation in 28 states, said the national database only stores about 13 DNA markers from the more than 3 billion markers in a person’s DNA. None of the markers reveals a person’s medical or personal information, including a person’s race or gender. Sepich noted several states have named their DNA collection laws after high profile murder cases, including Nevada’s “Brianna’s Law,” named after college student Brianna Denison who was abducted and murdered in 2008.
“If you don’t pass it this year, who is it going to be named after in Kentucky?” Sepich asked lawmakers.
The bill passed the judiciary committee in 2013 but was never voted on by the full Senate. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he supports the bill but said, “I’m not sure you can do it constitutionally.”