Republican says rape kit testing bill will pass Legislature

December 4, 2019

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, left, and rape survivor Jacqueline Jaske, call on Republicans to pass a bill designed to prevent the backlog of kits containing evidence from sexual assaults at a Capitol news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2019, in Madison, Wis. The Senate passed the bill in October, but it's gone nowhere in the Assembly.

MADISON — A bipartisan bill with broad support designed to prevent future backlogs in testing of evidence collected following a sexual assault will likely pass the Legislature sometime next year, a key Republican lawmaker said Tuesday after Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and advocates pressed for action.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee that has the bill, said he planned to hold a hearing on it and expected it would be pass before the end of session next year. The Senate passed it in October, but the measure has languished in the Assembly. That inaction led Kaul and advocates to call for action Tuesday.

“This should be an embarrassment this bill has not passed,” said Jacqueline Jaske, a rape survivor and an advocate for victims who joined Kaul at a Capitol news conference. “Is there anyone who opposes what this bill is all about?”

Sanfelippo said he had reservations about putting the procedures in law and believed Kaul could do now what the bill proposed but said there is pressure to pass it “because it looks good from a political standpoint.”

“I can’t see why anybody would vote against it,” Sanfelippo said. A majority of Assembly members are co-sponsors.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has said he would sign the bill into law once it passes.

The proposal was developed by lawmakers, victims’ rights advocates, members of law enforcement and others after years of discussion and criticism of the state’s rape kit testing backlog. It would set new timelines and protocols for nurses, victims and members of law enforcement with the goal of preventing backlogs in the evidence that can be used to identify suspects in sexual assaults.

Wisconsin’s rape kit testing backlog has been a hot political issue for years. Victim advocate groups nationwide have been pushing since 2014 for Wisconsin and other states to analyze the kits in the hopes of identifying serial offenders. The sexual assault kits contain samples of fingernails, skin or other material collected by medical professionals that can be analyzed for DNA.

Kaul made the backlog a central issue in his 2018 race against then-Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, arguing he didn’t do enough to complete testing on the kits.

Schimel secured a $4 million federal grant to start testing Wisconsin’s kits in 2015 but the work didn’t begin until 2017. Two months before the 2018 election Schimel announced that 4,100 kits had been tested. Kaul announced last month that testing had been completed on all 4,471 kits designated for analysis. The work has resulted in a dozen criminal cases so far.

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. The state Department of Justice also would be required to track the number and nature of offenses involving sexual assault kits.

In reversal, Gov. Evers releases day's worth of emails

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers released a day's worth of his emails to a newspaper, after initially saying state law prohibited him from doing that.

Evers fulfilled an open records request made by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for all emails he sent and received on Nov. 12. The three emails he provided were copies of two press releases and his daily schedule, the newspaper reported Wednesday. The Associated Press made a similar request for a single day's emails but has not yet received a response from Evers.

Evers released the day's worth of emails to the Journal Sentinel after denying a similar request from a WITI-TV reporter in October. Evers said then he rejected it because the reporter's request was not limited to a specific subject. Open records advocates had criticized him for that position.

Evers' legal counsel said the office was releasing the governor's emails from a single day because it was making an exception to a portion of the public records law that says a request for records "is deemed sufficient if it reasonably describes the requested record or the information requested."

Evers and his legal team contend that portion of state law requires requests for emailed communication to include a specific topic and until last week said emails wouldn't be released without one.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the state's public records law says each request for records must be received by government officials "with a presumption of complete public access." Denying access to public records "generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied."

Lueders said nothing in the law requires the governor to withhold records and that Evers' reasoning for switching course leaves open the door to deny the same kind of request in the future.

"It’s troubling that rather than say this is the law and we are going to obey it, they say we’re right and we're doing all we can, but out of the kindness of our heart we’re going to release the records," Lueders said. “It preserves their ability to selectively say no to somebody else in the future.”

Ex-Wisconsin Gov. Walker open to seeking office after 2025

MADISON — Former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker says he won’t run for office again before 2025, but he “wouldn’t rule anything out” after that.

Walker also says he hopes Rebecca Kleefisch, his former lieutenant governor, runs for governor in 2022. He says she would be a “hell of a great governor.”

Walker commented on his political future Tuesday during an event at the Milwaukee Press Club. Walker was governor for eight years before losing last year to Democrat Tony Evers, ending his 26-year run in elected office.

Walker says he wouldn’t run for office until his commitment to serve as president of the Young America’s Foundation is complete after 2024. He starts in that job in 2021.

Walker says he’s not ruling anything out after that.

The 52-year-old Walker says, “I’m 22 years younger than the president, so I definitely have time.”



Associated Press