Legislature(2015 - 2016)CAPITOL 106
03/31/2015 08:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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HB 117-SEXUAL ASSAULT EXAMINATION KITS 9:02:29 AM VICE CHAIR KELLER announced that the last order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 117, "An Act requiring a report on untested sexual assault examination kits; and providing for an effective date." 9:03:04 AM REPRESENTATIVE STUTES moved to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS) for HB 117, Version 29-LS0386\E, Martin, 3/27/15, as the working document. There being no objection, Version E was before the committee. 9:03:25 AM The committee took an at-ease from 9:03 a.m. to 9:04 a.m. 9:04:54 AM REPRESENTATIVE GARRAN TARR, Alaska State Legislature, in response to Representative Gruenberg, advised that the previous version was W. 9:06:25 AM RAY FRIEDLANDER, Staff, Representative Gerran Tarr, Alaska State Legislature, advised that the changes in Version E include: page 1, line 7, changed date from July 1, 2015 to September 1, 2015; page 1, line 13, changed date from September to November 1, 2015; page 2, lines 10-16, the definition of "untested sexual assault kit" was expanded to include the phrase "with evidence" (line 11) in order to ascertain the audit is specifically for kits with evidence, as opposed to kits not utilized by local law enforcement agencies and state departments. In addition to that change, she said, the sponsor further elaborated on the definition to include not only kits that have been collected and not submitted to the lab, but also collected kits that have been submitted to the lab and not yet processed with DNA or serological testing. She reiterated this is to ensure that the audit only includes kits with evidence, and the expansion of the definition to encompass the crime lab. 9:09:07 AM VICE CHAIR KELLER requested the history of where the kits originated as credit is due, and assumed the motivation was that the kits would be a tool readily available for medical and enforcement to ensure the rape was properly investigated. REPRESENTATIVE TARR responded that this idea was brought to her attention by a national organization working throughout the country in addressing the backlog of untested rape kits. The motivation, she offered, is regarding the violent criminals still on the streets due to untested kits and the DNA results not entered into a database associating them with rape or another crime. She expressed surprise that there is not a uniform protocol for the 150 law enforcement agencies involved in the process. She described the legislation as an opportunity to get everyone on the same page, coordinating the work to ensure a better understanding of what is happening in this state, and allowing the state to possibly seek additional resources. She referred to Mr. Orin Dym's testimony during the previous meeting, who advised that currently there are approximately 170 untested rape kits at the crime lab and, she stated, the audit could reveal a process of seeking outside funds in addressing the backlog. Representative Tarr referred to Ms. Brown's earlier testimony that it can be difficult for a victim to participate in the ongoing criminal procedures due to the length of time taken to process cases, and thereby being re- victimized on a continual basis by reliving the traumatic event. 9:13:21 AM VICE CHAIR KELLER stated that the rape kits are different in every state and are not standardized. Currently, the kits are available as a voluntary tool and that parts of the kit can be used [for other incomplete kits] and, he asked whether Representative Tarr had considered that formalizing the process may have an unintended consequence. He posed a scenario of medical staff not using parts of the kit due to the paperwork imposed. REPRESENTATIVE TARR advised that there is a standardized process once a kit is open and medical staff collects evidence. She related that there is not a standard process as to what happens next in terms of whether the kit is put on an evidence shelf and sits there for a long period of time until the case moves forward, or whether the kit is always sent in for testing. The audit will identify best practices and provide a more standardized process and, in the event a piece hindered the process, she opined that the public safety people are available to avoid that from happening. 9:15:18 AM VICE CHAIR KELLER referred to the term "collected" in the bill, and noted that within the audit process it must be decided whether or not "collected" means that is it there for evidence, or whatever. He pointed out that the audit will force things such as that, and noted the term "collected" is not defined in the bill and suggested that possibly it should be included, rather than using it as a lever for reform. MS. FRIEDLANDER replied, with regard to the term "collected," Legislative Legal and Research Service expanded on it with the phrase "with evidence." She explained it is a kit that has been collected with evidence. VICE CHAIR KELLER related that as he read the definition it was not clear, "with evidence," although, if the definition stopped there he would understand it. He said that parts 1 and 2 discuss, "that have been collected ... and have been collected and submitted," and asked whether that language is sufficient. He offered that possibly it is enough to put it on the record, and wanted to be sure it was on the table. 9:17:15 AM REPRESENTATIVE TARR advised that Dean Williams, Department of Public Safety, is available to address Chair Keller's concerns. VICE CHAIR KELLER restated his question and asked whether a definition of "collected," is necessary, or whether to define the nexus between "what is evidence and what is collected." 9:18:06 AM ORIN DYM, Forensic Laboratory Manager, Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, Department of Public Safety, answered that with regard to the term "'collected,' once a sexual assault kit is used for the collection of evidence, I find the meaning clear" as they are counting kits once the seals are broken and evidence is collected. VICE CHAIR KELLER surmised that once the hospital uses a kit it is automatically evidence as far as Mr. Dym is concerned. MR. DYM answered correct, in that once it is collected it becomes evidence. VICE CHAIR KELLER asked whether that is a new definition here. He noted, from the previous hearing, there are cases within enforcement where a piece may have used out of a kit and the alleged victim decided not to proceed. Therefore, there is collected evidence that hasn't been processed properly by the state and, thereby, perhaps exacerbated the problem the committee is trying to fix, he suggested. MR. DYM said whether or not a case is prosecuted doesn't change the fact that it is still evidence, and whether or not it is a prosecutable cases has no bearing on the fact that it is still evidence collected from a crime scene. 9:20:04 AM VICE CHAIR KELLER restated his question, and asked whether currently there is evidence that is not being considered evidence because it was not forwarded. He pointed out that if a piece of the kit is used, that is evidence as far as Mr. Dym is concerned, which means the Department of Public Safety must keep the kit and warehouse it forever. He opined that that is not how the kits are really being used, but he could be wrong. MR. DYM said he was trying to understand [the question], and remarked that if a kit is utilized to collect biological material, that kit is evidence. In the event a partial kit is utilized, he explained, that is still evidence. Within the process of identifying kits that have not been submitted to the laboratory (kits utilized in the collection of evidence) if a piece of the kit has been utilized in evidence collection and is removed from the kit that may be difficult to identify, and he does not have an answer for that question. VICE CHAIR KELLER asked Mr. Dean Williams whether his understanding of evidence is correct. 9:22:03 AM DEAN WILLIAMS, Special Assistant, Office of the Commissioner, Department of Public Safety, responded that from the perspective of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the language is clear in terms of what is being counted. He described it as a good effort because DPS does not know to what extent there may be a problem but if there is one, even a small one, DPS should be aware and develop a plan. He remarked that DPS knows what it is dealing with in terms of untested kits, and if there is evidence in a kit there may be a good reason why the kit was not tested, but DPS should perform a hand count and audit. He said DPS is supportive of the efforts for these reasons. 9:23:13 AM VICE CHAIR KELLER surmised that Mr. Williams was discussing the entire bill, and asked whether he was specifically discussing the new definition in Version E, Section 1, page 2, lines 10-16, which read [original punctuation provided]: (d) In this section, "untested sexual examination kit" means a sexual assault examination kit with evidence that (1) has been collected but that has not been submitted to a laboratory operated or approved by the Department of Public Safety for either a serological or DNA test; or (2) has been collected and submitted to a laboratory operated or approved by the Department of Public Safety but that has not had a serological or DNA test conducted on the evidence. MR. WILLIAMS answered that he discussed the changes with Representative Tarr and is comfortable with the definition and that DPS has a good sense of what it means. 9:24:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG referred to Section 1, page 2, lines 7- 9, which read [original punctuation provided]: (c) The Department of Public Safety shall deliver a copy of the report prepared under (b) of this section to the senate secretary and the chief clerk of the house of representatives and notify the legislature that the report is available. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG pointed out that subsection (c) is not necessary in that a few additional words included in subsection (b) would suffice and would eliminate verbiage. 9:24:20 AM REPRESENTATIVE TARR, in response to Chair Keller, stated that the bill has two additional committee referrals, the House Judiciary Standing Committee and the House Finance Committee. VICE CHAIR KELLER noted that he and Representative Gruenberg can work on the bill within the House Judiciary Standing Committee, should he choose to move the bill. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG suggested considering an amendment. VICE CHAIR KELLER opened public testimony. 9:25:13 AM JESSICA CLER, Manager, Alaska Public Affairs, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, said she is a lifelong resident of Alaska, and currently lives in Anchorage. She stated she is testifying in support of CSHB 117, on behalf of the sexual assault survivors in Alaska awaiting closure and justice. There are approximately 400,000-500,000 untested sexual assault examination kits within the United States, which not only means that sexual predators can evade justice and re-offend, but also leaves thousands of sexual assault survivors without closure. In a state with tragically high sexual assault rape numbers it is crucial that all rape kits are collected, submitted, and tested within a timely manner. She highlighted that CSHB 117 begins the process of addressing the backlog because the state needs to know the number of kits sitting on shelves waiting for analysis. She pointed out that this bill gives law enforcement and the public the information necessary to tackle the amount of untested rape kits in Alaska. The cities and states addressing the issue of their backlog of untested kits have noted significant gains in that the analysis has identified perpetrators and they are making gains in prosecuting these individuals. Alaska needs to follow their lead, she emphasized. 9:27:45 AM NANCY PORTO stated that this Easter marks a two-year time period from the moment she experienced a sexual assault. Although, she went to a hospital and fully consented to a rape kit examination, the kit has not been processed and she is waiting on the biological DNA evidence portion of her exam. She expressed that the event was traumatic as she was asleep before it happened, and was intoxicated with a narcotic in her system that she did not knowingly ingest. She stressed she does not know exactly what happened other than she woke terrified to the feeling of being touched. She called the police, and at the hospital was informed of a drug in her system that she did not take. On top of that, she explained, the man was and continues to be her sister's boyfriend and that she was living with them at the time. She expressed that this event destroyed her family, she experiences extreme difficulty with her college education, and she was forced into a position of having more responsibility than she could handle alone at the time. She related that she knows many other women who have experienced assault, and in addition to the assault, she is haunted by the reasons she has to believe that he may have committed crimes with others in his past. Please support CSHB 117, because it can truly be a step in the right direction and give many others closure, she expressed. VICE CHAIR KELLER closed public testimony after ascertaining that no one further wished to testify. 9:30:07 AM REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG moved to report CSHB 117, labeled 29- LS0386\E, Martin, 3/27/15, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHB 117(STA) was reported from the House State Affairs Standing Committee. VICE CHAIR KELLER returned the gavel to Chair Lynn. 9:30:30 AM The committee took an at-ease from 9:30 a.m. to 9:33 a.m. 9:33:06 AM CHAIR LYNN remarked that due to the importance of this bill he suggested the committee craft a letter to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee regarding earlier expressed concerns [that fall under the purview of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee]. REPRESENTATIVE VAZQUEZ stated that she and Representative Gruenberg [no longer in the room] support the efforts to be made regarding HB 117, as amended, which is the audit of the crime lab. CHAIR LYNN stated he is glad the bill passed out of committee, but more must be done.