New York Times, March 15, 2017
Christine Hauser

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Thousands of rape investigations are bogged down in Texas because of untested evidence, but a lawmaker has proposed a bill that would use public crowdfunding to help pay for testing and fix the backlog.

In the first legislation of its kind, the lawmaker, State Representative Victoria Neave, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced the bill in February to solicit donations of $1 or more from people when they renew or apply for driver’s licenses. The money would underwrite a grant for the Department of Public Safety to test what are commonly called “rape kits,” which consist of evidence samples including hair, semen, fabric fibers and skin cells.

“It was an issue that we thought was really important,” Ms. Neave said in an interview on Tuesday. “We know that women don’t always get to the point of reporting the incident, and when they have the courage to voluntarily undergo the test, that takes a lot of courage.

“My view is that the least thing we can do is make sure that we get these kits get tested,” she said. “We owe it to them.” 

The bill had its first public hearing in the state’s capital on Monday. A final vote would take place before the legislative session ends in May.

If adopted, it could generate an estimated $1 million a year, based on similar donations collected for veterans from driver’s license applications, according to a legislative budget document. When administrative costs are deducted, that would leave more than $800,000 every fiscal year that local governments could tap to push through testing of evidence collected from the victims of sexual assault during a physical examination that can take four to six hours.

The donations are intended to supplement rather than replace a budget for the testing, which can cost $1,000 to $1,500 for each kit. The Legislature, which is now in budget talks, is also considering allocating $4 million to fund the process, said Rebecca Acuna, Ms. Neave’s chief of staff. [...]

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