Governor signs rape kit test and needle exchange bills

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  • | 12:00 p.m. March 24, 2016
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Rep. Janet Adkins
Rep. Janet Adkins
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Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday signed nine bills, including a high-profile measure requiring local law-enforcement agencies to submit “rape kits” to be tested and another allowing the creation of a needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade County.

Scott praised SB 636, which would establish time limits for sexual-assault evidence — known as rape kits — to be submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing.

He said in a statement the move would “provide thousands of women with a renewed sense of safety and closure as they heal from the horrific crime of rape.”

Demand for the bill followed revelations that thousands of rape kits had been collected but not tested statewide. In early January, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that the state had more than 13,000 untested rape kits.

No one disputed that testing the DNA evidence could help prevent future rapes, but until Wednesday, Florida had not required law-enforcement agencies to submit rape kits for testing.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R- Fort Myers, and Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, sponsored bills setting time limits for testing such evidence, with the Senate version ultimately passing both chambers unanimously.

The proposal would require local law-enforcement agencies to submit the rape kits within 30 days of the beginning of their investigations or after being notified by victims or victims’ representatives that they wish the evidence to be tested.

Also, the new state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes $10.7 million to help eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits. Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials told lawmakers that fiscal constraints led to the backlog.

Among the other measures approved Wednesday, Scott signed SB 242, which establishes a pilot program that seeks to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases by allowing drug users to swap used needles and syringes for clean ones. The privately funded program will be run by the University of Miami and would expire in 2021.

Similar bills had been filed dating back to at least 2013 but did not pass, at least in part because of concerns that lawmakers would appear to be sanctioning drug use.



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