By Ryan Owens | guest column
Wisconsin deserves an Attorney General who can work effectively with the Legislature to make our state freer, safer, and more prosperous. Regrettably, Attorney General Josh Kaul refuses to do so. He has ignored, attacked and offended the Legislature on so many issues and to such a degree that he cannot successfully work with them.
Perhaps nowhere has Kaul’s inability to work across the aisle been more glaring than on the stalled efforts to pass beneficial legislation on rape kits.
Rape kits help identify and prove who sexually assaulted someone. During many assaults, the perpetrator leaves biological evidence behind. The victim then can sometimes undergo a medical examination to collect that evidence. In many instances, prosecutors can use it to identify perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Despite running for election two years ago on wanting to systematize how the state processes rape kits, Kaul has failed to work effectively with the Legislature and get the job done. Wisconsin law still does not define how and when to collect, process and track sexual assault kits.
Where he has failed, I will lead.
I call on the Legislature, respectfully, to pass legislation on rape kits. Two bills currently reside in the Assembly, having been passed by the Senate. With revisions, these bills will improve policy in Wisconsin.
Senate Bill (SB) 71 provides a legal schedule for how the state must process rape kits. It requires health care professionals to notify law enforcement that they have obtained a rape kit within 24 hours of its collection (assuming the victim wants law enforcement notified). Law enforcement must then obtain that kit within 72 hours. Then within 14 days law enforcement must send it to the state Crime Lab for analysis.
SB 94 creates a tracking system so that victims can go online, anonymously, to determine where their kit is.
I urge the Assembly to pass both laws, with revisions. It should add a requirement to SB 71 that the Crime Lab must analyze the rape kits within a specific time frame. It should investigate how long the lab reasonably needs to process kits and then impose a time ceiling. At minimum, it should require a quick turnaround time for a serology, which is a test for whether or not DNA is present in the sample.
The bill places strict time requirements on law enforcement and health care officials as they handle rape kits; it should do the same with the Crime Lab to speed up the process for victims to the extent possible. After all, a delayed rape kit might mean that a rapist roams free.
To SB 94 the Assembly should add that victims — if they desire it — may receive automated updates notifying them of status changes to their kits. As one study put it: “Devoting time and resources toward improving victim engagement and participation may pay significant dividends that amplify the value of forensic testing.”
If the kit has been moved, or some other information about the kit is updated, the victim should have the choice to opt-in to receive an automated message alerting them to an update in their kit’s status. We already use similar updating tools today. Online credit trackers notify users if their credit scores have changed. The state could do the same. Users would thus always know where their kits are in the process.
Wisconsin deserves serious leaders who can work together effectively. By attacking the Legislature and doubling down on left-wing legal causes when he should have been working on safety, Kaul has failed to do his job effectively.
I therefore ask the Legislature to make these changes. Let’s work together on rape kits and get the job done.