MADISON — A bipartisan plan unveiled Tuesday to prevent future backlogs of sexual assault kits in Wisconsin would set new timelines and protocols for nurses, victims and members of law enforcement.
The measure, developed after years of discussion and criticism over the state's backlog, was unveiled by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, victims' rights advocates, representatives of law enforcement and others. Kaul said given the broad support he was confident the bill would pass the Legislature and become law.
"We are hoping this sends a clear message that the state of Wisconsin is standing up for survivors of sexual assault," Kaul said.
The testing kit backlog was a central issue in the attorney general's race last year. Kaul said then-Attorney General Brad Schimel didn't do enough to complete the testing. Kaul on Friday announced that since 2016, testing had been completed on 4,160 kits, with charges filed against six people. The state Department of Justice, along with local police departments, is reviewing 605 cases stemming from 1,605 kits that have detectable DNA.
"We can never have another backlog of untested sexual assault kits in Wisconsin," Kaul said.
The bill establishes requirements and timelines for health care professionals dealing with sexual assault victims. Under the bill, if the victim wants to report the sexual assault to law enforcement, the health care professional must notify police within 24 hours of collecting the kit. If the victim doesn't want to report it, the kit must still be sent to the crime lab for storage within 72 hours. It would be stored there for up to 10 years.
Once a law enforcement agency has been notified that a kit has been collected, it must take possession within 72 hours and send it to a state crime lab for testing within 14 days.
A backlog of testing sexual assault kits has been an issue in Wisconsin and across the country for years. Victim advocate groups have been pushing since 2014 for states to analyze the kits in the hopes of identifying serial offenders.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. David Steffen, of Green Bay, said the bill will provide clear, efficient and agreed-upon procedures to replace a patchwork system in the state to ensure that justice is delivered.
"Backlogs and bureaucracy should never be a barrier to justice," Steffen said.
Ian Henderson, with the Wisconsin Association Against Sexual Assault, said the bill is the culmination of years of work that provides survivors with options about how to engage with law enforcement. Victims, for a variety of reasons, may not want to report an assault but these requirements keep the decision on what to do with them, he said.
Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, supports the measure and will sign it into law, said his spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.
Republican legislative leaders were noncommittal. Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald called the bill a "good start" in a Twitter message but didn't commit to working to pass it. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos "looks forward to learning more" from Republicans who worked on the bill first with Schimel and now Kaul, said Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer.