Republican says rape kit testing bill will pass Legislature after AG Kaul pressed for action

WEST ALLIS -- 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.