North Carolina lawmakers want to spend $6 million over the next two years to reduce the massive backlog of untested rape evidence kits throughout the state.
The Senate budget committee on Tuesday backed a revised version of the “Stand Up for Rape Victims Act of 2019” that would provide $3 million in each of the next two years for processing untested sexual assault kits. A statewide inventory in 2018 found more than 15,000 untested rape kits, The News & Observer previously reported.
The new funding could help crack several cold criminal cases. In April, Johnston County authorities used a previously untested rape kit to make an arrest in an unsolved murder from 1972.
Due to the state budget impasse between the Republican-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, lawmakers have gone with partial budget bills. GOP leaders have moved forward recently with relatively popular items, such as raises for state employees and testing rape kits.
State Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, had urged state lawmakers to provide $6 million to reduce the backlog of evidence kits. In May, Stein said Durham was the No. 2 city in the state in addressing the backlog of getting kits tested.
In addition to providing funding, House Bill 29 also establishes procedures for testing the kits and requires law enforcement agencies to notify the State Crime Lab of an arrest or conviction resulting from a hit in the DNA database.
Also on Tuesday, the Senate budget committee backed a revised version of House Bill 75 that provides $68 million over the next two years for school safety measures such as hiring more school resource officers. The items were originally part of the legislature’s budget plan.
“Today more than ever, parents want to know their children are safe when they send them to school,” Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican, said in a statement Tuesday. “Also, school communities deserve the proper resources to have safe, secure buildings to ensure they are protected from any threats that may arise.
“Both Democrats and Republicans can agree that protecting our schools is a priority, and I am glad we were able to rescue this funding from the ongoing budget impasse. Children’s safety should not be delayed any longer because of a disagreement on an unrelated topic and I hope the Governor does not jeopardize that safety to play political games.”