Just after midnight on the final day of the Georgia legislative session the House passed the Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act with a unanimous vote.
The legislation, Senate Bill 304, managed to pass both chambers in a single day. Its main sponsor, Rep. Scott Holcomb, said the bill’s passage will greatly benefit rape kit processes in the future.
“I’m very proud that this bill passed,” Holcomb said. “It is a very important measure that will ensure the timely processing of rape kits going forward.”
The Act, first presented as House Bill 827 (HB 827) and purposed to find and test neglected sexual assault evidence, passed unanimously in the House on Feb 23.
However, Chairperson of the Senate Health and Human Service Committee, Sen. Renee Unterman, put the brakes on the bill by refusing to give it a required hearing.
Unterman said she does not support the bill because the rape kit issue only occurs in Fulton and DeKalb counties, so creating a state law would be unnecessary. According to a partial count, the rape kit backlog in Georgia is an estimated 3,108 kits, with many untested kits reported in Cobb county and Unterman’s home county, Gwinnett.
Since then, Unterman has faced national backlash from TBS political satirist Samantha Bee and activist groups alike.
The bill would require law enforcement to submit any untested rape kits for testing before August 2016, pick up new kits from hospitals within 4 days and send them in for testing within 30 days and demands labs report on the number of rape kits held in their inventory.
Georgia senators found a way to bypass Unterman’s committee by removing language from Senate Bill 304 (SB 304) and replacing it with the proposal from HB 827. SB 304 passed Thursday morning without opposition and passed the senate in the session’s final minutes in a unanimous vote which included Unterman, who relented after adding language to the bill to protect crime victim rights among other changes.
Women’s advocates and victims groups continued to support the bill until the legislative session’s end. Sexual assault survivor and Executive Director of Atlanta Women for Equality, Lisa Anderson, said processed rape kits are a powerful resource to prevent future acts of sexual violence and wrongful imprisonment in cases where the survivor cannot identify the attacker.
“Undergoing a rape kit is an extremely traumatic experience for a rape survivor and those who endure the deeply invasive procedure make a tremendous sacrifice in the interest of justice,” Anderson said. “This Act would help us protect our citizens and make it more difficult for us to turn a deliberately blind eye to these painfully given gifts and the truth they bear.”
Georgia State student Shané Boulware said this is common sense legislation that should’ve been enacted years ago.
“It doesn’t make sense that this process wasn’t used in the first place because it’s pointless not to test the kits,” Boulware said. “But this is a step in the right direction.”
After the vote, the chamber burst into applause and both Democrats and Republicans rose to give Holcomb a rare standing ovation.
“I want to thank everyone who worked so hard, to include the student advocates,” Holcomb said. “Your voices were heard.”