Legislature(2019 - 2020)GRUENBERG 120
02/04/2020 03:00 PM STATE AFFAIRS
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^hb49 HB 182-SEXUAL ASSAULT EXAMINATION KITS: TESTING [Contains discussion of HB 49] 3:48:56 PM CO-CHAIR FIELDS announced that the final order of business would be SPONSOR SUBSTITUTE FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 182, "An Act relating to testing of sexual assault examination kits; and providing for an effective date." 3:49:22 PM CO-CHAIR KREISS-TOMKINS moved to adopt the sponsor substitute (SS) for HB 182, Version 31-LS1188\M, as the working document. REPRESENTATIVE VANCE objected for discussion purposes. 3:50:04 PM The committee took a brief at-ease. [It was determined that adoption of SSHB 182 was not necessary.] 3:50:24 PM REPRESENTATIVE GERAN TARR, Alaska State Legislature, relayed that in the fall of 2014, she received a letter from the "End the Backlog" organization - a project of the Joyful Heart Foundation. The Joyful Heart Foundation was founded by actress Mariska Hargitay of the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit television series in response to the many communications she received from individuals who were victims of sexual assault. She started the End The Backlog initiative to end the backlog of untested rape kits. REPRESENTATIVE TARR stated that Alaska is making significant gains on [rape kit testing] reform. She referred to slide 2 of the PowerPoint, entitled "Joyful Heart Foundation - 6 Pillars," which read: head2right Annual statewide inventory of untested kits: A recurring count of all untested rape kits enables stakeholders to understand the scope of the problem and monitor progress. head2right Mandatory testing of backlogged kits: Eliminate the existing backlog by requiring law enforcement agencies to submit all previously untested kits to the lab and requiring the kits to be tested. head2right Mandatory testing of new kits: Prevent future backlogs by requiring law enforcement agencies to promptly submit all newly collected kits to the lab, and requiring the lab to test these kits within a specific time frame. head2right Statewide tracking system: Ensure that hospitals, law enforcement, and labs are using the same system to track rape kits. Build in a mechanism for survivors to check the status of their kits throughout the process, from collection to analysis. head2right Victims' rights to notice: Grant victims the right to receive information about the status and location of their rape kit, and require that victims be informed if their kit will not be tested and prior to destruction. head2right Funding for reform: Appropriate state funding to address these issues REPRESENTATIVE TARR stated that Alaska has accomplished almost everything on the list of reforms and outlined Alaska's progress as shown on slide 3, entitled "Where are we?" which read: 2014 Launch Rape Kit Reform Initiative 2015 Introduce HB 117, requiring a statewide audit of all untested rape kits, legislative hearings lead to request for audit of the crime lab 2016 Continued working with crime lab staff and public safety officials on reforms like instituting a tracking system for all rape kits 2017 Reforms pass requiring statewide audit of untested kits (SB 55) 2018 Reforms pass establishing law enforcement and anonymous reports for victim centered approach, require law enforcement to have training on sexual assault response, require audit on untested kits to be annual (HB 31) 2019 Reforms pass requiring timely testing of rape kits and victim notification (HB 49) 2020 House Bill 182 to shorten timeline for testing 60 days or 6 months? REPRESENTATIVE TARR referred to the document, entitled "Annual Inventory of Untested SAKs," [included in the committee packet], that presents the last three years of the statewide audit numbers. She reviewed the kit tracking process. She added that Alaska now requires a victim be notified by public safety officials within two weeks of a rape kit being tested. Some states offer an online tracking system in which a victim can track the progress of the rape kit online. Alaska does not yet have a full tracking system in that regard. REPRESENTATIVE TARR addressed the issue of the timeline for testing: When the reform work began, rape kit processing took a little more than two years. With work on capacity, funding, and training, the timeline was reduced to about one year. The current version of SSHB 182 puts the timeline at 60 days as the best practice for Alaska. REPRESENTATIVE TARR continued with slide 4, entitled "Why Timing of Testing is Important," which offered a case study and read: Mosley is in custody now, but he was allowed to roam Anchorage freely for more than eight months after Anchorage police detectives learned his DNA implicated him in three sexual assaults, and forwarded charges to the Department of Law. During that time, a fourth woman was raped. REPRESENTATIVE TARR relayed the passage on slide 5, entitled "Lives Changed Forever," which read: "The effect on the victims cannot be overstated. Some of these women waited years to find out who their assailant was. [One woman] moved back to her hometown out of fear and shame. One of these women, after years of suffering from infertility despite her best efforts with her partner, became pregnant as a result of the rape. The cruel irony of carrying the child of her rapist after years of trying to have a child with her partner had a significant impact on her. For each of these women, they re-live the trauma of the rape and recently endured having to tell a grand jury what happened to them." REPRESENTATIVE TARR offered that the story she just related is just one of many in Alaska. She emphasized the power of timing in rape kit testing. 3:56:28 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR moved to slide 6, entitled "We MUST do better." In addressing the fiscal note (FN) for SSHB 182 she relayed the following: Alaska's Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory ("crime lab") is a great facility, but it has never been fully staffed for Alaska to have the in-state capacity to do all the forensic processing necessary. The crime lab is processing as much as possible for the whole state, although for some circumstances, kits must be sent out of state. She stated, "It's a big uplift to get these highly qualified technical staff in place." She mentioned that after HB 49 was enacted [calling for the testing of sexual assault examination kits, signed into law 7/11/19], it took several months for a position to be created, several more months for recruitment and hiring, and another year and a half of training. She complimented the efforts of the new director of the crime lab, David Kanaris, to make the crime lab work better. She said that crime lab staff are doing everything they can; it is a matter of the legislature providing additional resources so that staff can scale up their operations to meet any new requirements. She stated that the goal is 60 days [for the testing of sexual assault examination kits]; however, the next realistic step is probably 6 months due to the challenge of filling positions and evolving the system. Once the 6-month timeline is achieved, staff will be better able to assess the additional resources necessary to meet 60 days. She mentioned that the estimates in the FN reflect multiple phases in the process. She continued by saying that there have been discussions about strengthening the relationships with local law enforcement as the capacity of the state crime lab increases; "better response will just mean improved public safety for the whole state." REPRESENTATIVE TARR referred again to the document, entitled "Annual Inventory of Untested SAKs," to point out the numbers from the statewide inventory: in 2017, 3,484 sexual assault kits (SAKs) were inventoried; in 2019, 1,696 SAKs were inventoried. 4:01:30 PM [A trailer for the documentary, I am Evidence, was played for the committee, to demonstrate the consequences of delay in processing sexual assault kits. The link to the trailer was displayed on slide 7, which read: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_b1SbbSu6Y REPRESENTATIVE TARR relayed that on an annual basis, Alaska receives about 1,100 kits to be processed, which represents many lives impacted. It is an issue that impacts everyone in the state. 4:05:16 PM DAVID KANARIS, Chief, Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, Department of Public Safety (DPS), relayed that he became chief of the crime lab in July 2019 and is reviewing processes within the lab. His goal is as follows: to reduce backlog; improve turn-around times; address retention and recruitment, develop partnerships with local stakeholders; develop multidisciplinary teams with the Department of Law (DOL) and law enforcement; and increase transparency within the system. He said, "I believe Alaska's public has a right to know what's actually happening within the crime lab. We don't want us to be a black box." He stated that ultimately, he wants to make lab data available to the public on the website. MR. KANARIS offered that what Alaska has seen regarding sexual assault mirrors what has occurred nationally; there has been a large increase in the number of cases being submitted. With the increased focus on publicity nationally, the sexual assault kit initiative, and capital appropriations made available within the state, there has been more focus on sexual assaults. Between 2011 and 2017, according to national crime statistics, there has been an uptick in violent crime rates in the state as well. MR. KANARIS continued by saying that when the lab was opened in 2012, about 300 deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) cases were submitted; in 2019, 651 cases were submitted; the current year  has seen a 33 percent increase, which puts the lab on track for receiving 900 cases for the year. He stated that he is looking for ways to handle the increase and shorten processing times, including more personnel, process changes, changes in the training program, and procedural changes. REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON asked for a progress report on the status of the backlog of untested rape kits. MR. KANARIS answered that there are three groups of kits. The 2016 federal funds through the sexual assault kit initiative (SAKI) were used to test only DPS Alaska State Trooper (AST) kits, which numbered slightly under 600. Testing of those kits was completed and the funds exhausted. In 2017, the state made a capital appropriation of $2.75 million to test the rest of the kits, which numbered 2,500. Of those, 1,219 have been submitted to a third-party testing company. The third group consists of the ongoing cases that come in, which is estimated to be 900 this year. Of those, about 60-70 percent represent sexual assaults, and they will be tested. The current timeline for testing is about 9 months, which is a significant improvement over the 2-year testing timeline of 2-3 years ago. 4:10:30 PM REPRESENTATIVE VANCE thanked the sponsor for her efforts. She suggested a change to the effective date - currently 7/1/2020 - to a later date, considering the lab is a couple years from eliminating the backlog and at the point where it can process cases as they are received. REPRESENTATIVE TARR explained that currently 6 months is a realistic timeframe. It is her desire that the proposed legislation be amended to require testing to be done within 6 months with the effective date of 7/1/2021. Additional funding would be required in fiscal year 2021 (FY 21) to create the positions. REPRESENTATIVE VANCE asked whether there have been discussions about expectations and timelines for hiring qualified people for the crime lab, considering the difficulty recruiting other DPS employees and the resulting slowdown of timelines on important public safety matters. She maintained that such a delay would affect the effective date in meeting the goals of the proposed legislation. REPRESENTATIVE TARR replied that initially, 1/1/2021 was considered, but the date was changed to 7/1/2021 for the very reason Representative Vance cited - to allow for an appropriate amount of time to hire and train employees. She referred to Mr. Kanaris's credentials and tours of the crime lab. 4:14:47 PM REPRESENTATIVE VANCE asked whether there have been any prosecutions as a result of kits being processed. REPRESENTATIVE TARR responded that Mr. Kanaris has some information on results, but kits are still being processed. She stated that SAKI evaluated kit testing to establish best practices, and Mr. Kanaris has stated that if there is not usable evidence after testing, the lab can quickly notify the victim. REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON also asked about the results of catching up on kit testing. He asked for the number of cases affected and the number of identifications. REPRESENTATIVE TARR answered that because criminal prosecution is involved, she does not receive that information. She added that the information is privileged and for the benefit of law enforcement personnel. MR. KANARIS stated that of the 568 SAKI cases, 199 had DNA profiles available. Of those, 57 were enter into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and got hits in the database; 61 were "warm" [confirmatory] hits; and 66 were cold hits, that is, providing completely new information to the law enforcement agency. He mentioned that one of the cases is now active in DOL. He said he has less information on the cases funded under the capital appropriation. Of the 2,568 SAKs, a portion has been tested, and as of November  about 212 had a profile that was available to be uploaded into CODIS. He offered that about one-third of cases have a usable DNA profile. At that point, it is up to law enforcement to investigate further. He cited research which stated that the benefit to society of testing one SAK is $130,000 - an 8,000 percent return on investment. 4:18:31 PM REPRESENTATIVE HOPKINS referred to the "Report from End the Backlog on Alaska," page 2, which read: "No tracking system exists." He asked for comment on the tracking system. REPRESENTATIVE TARR responded that at the time House Bill 117 was introduced [during the Twenty-Ninth Alaska State Legislature, (2015-2016)] there was no system of unique identifiers for the kits; therefore, it was impossible to know if the tested kits being sent back to the local police departments had been used. Subsequently the crime lab changed its operations internally so that each kit now has a unique identifier and can be tracked. She added that the capital budget a couple years ago included not only funds for testing but funds for high capacity storage shelves; therefore, the crime lab now can be the central repository for the kits. The tracking system tracks the location of the kits. A tracking system to the victim would allow the victim to log in and track the progress of the kit. She referred to victims being retraumatized when asked to retell their stories over and over. Alaska has not fully established victim tracking; however, law enforcement must notify the individual within two weeks that the rape kit was tested. Under HB 49, the kit must be sent to the crime lab within 30 days; it must be tested within one year; and the victim must be notified within two weeks [of testing]. The proposed legislation [SSHB 182], if amended, would require the SAK be tested within 6 months. She emphasized that the timelines add certainty to the process for the victims. CO-CHAIR FIELDS referred to the letter [dated 1/31/20 and included in the committee packet] from Providence Health & Services Alaska offering support for the proposed legislation. 4:22:23 PM REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON referred to the $2.75 million that the legislature appropriated in 2018 to process the rape kits. He asked whether all the funds have been expended. REPRESENTATIVE TARR answered that during the reform process an industry has developed around rape kit testing because so many kits were untested and large sums of federal money became available. She said that of the 2,500 kits to be tested, about 1,290 have been submitted for testing with results back on 1,000. She stated that until all kits have been submitted and tested, the state won't know the remaining balance in the funds. The high capacity shelves have been purchased. MR. KANARIS responded that none of the funding was to be used for in-state personnel; it was determined that using the funds to hire and train personnel would result in too many staff for the ongoing amount of work. The decision was made to outsource the kits to a third party on the East Coast. The [third party] agency is halfway through testing the kits, and kits coming into the lab are being forwarded on to the agency as well. Crime lab staff is tasked with uploading the profiles into COTIS after testing is complete. REPRESENTATIVE THOMPSON asked whether current kits from AST are being sent to the Lower 48 to be tested, or whether crime lab personnel are performing the tests on the current kits. MR. KANARIS answered that cases inventoried under the capital appropriation - the ones that are stored at local police departments and have never been submitted to the crime lab - are being outsourced. Any current kits are being tested within the state. REPRESENTATIVE VANCE referred to the FN, [included in the committee packet], which read: "private forensic science service provider could meet a 60-day testing window." She asked for the turnaround time for outsourced kits. MR. KANARIS answered that it takes 200 days on average for testing to be completed at the private company. CO-CHAIR FIELDS asked for confirmation that in summary, Alaska is expanding its internal capacity while outsourcing some of the backlog. MR. KANARIS answered, "Yes, that's absolutely correct." CO-CHAIR FIELDS stated SSHB 182 would be held over.