The House unanimously passed a bill to create a database of “rape kits,” which contain evidence obtained from victims after sexual assaults.
The database, as established in Rep. Emily Slosberg‘s legislation (HB 673), would be open to the victims, so they can track what is going on with their kits as law enforcement processes them.
The bill is named “Gail’s Law” after Gail Gardner, an Orlando woman who was sexually assaulted in 1988 and whose rape kit was not tested for more than 30 years. A few months ago, she found out that her attacker was a serial rapist linked to 15 other sexual assaults and serving a life sentence.
He has been incarcerated for more than a decade. But because of the trauma from that attack, Gardner spent years fearing her attacker could return.
“Gail, like many other victims, was never notified, left in the dark,” Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat, said.
When victims provide DNA evidence through an examination, the evidence is placed in a kit. Under the bill, barcodes on kits would be scanned as they pass between agencies. A confidential portal, accessible by victims with a login and password, would provide status updates for them.
Law enforcement would have until 2023 to implement the database.
The bill is a second legislative response after the state was shocked in 2015 by reports from USA Today that Florida had a backlog of thousands of unprocessed rape kits. Eventually, a Florida audit determined 13,345 rape kits had gone untested in Florida. Some were neglected or even abandoned for decades, many lost in shuffles of evidence in cases handled independently by law enforcement agencies and courts throughout the state.
In 2016, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill approved unanimously by both chambers. That law required local authorities to turn over all the test kits to the state’s crime lab within 30 days and for labs to process them within 120 days of receipt.
Law enforcement cleared the backlog by mid-2019.
“This bill is the natural next step,” Slosberg said. “It creates additional accountability measures and empowers victims to feel a sense of control over their case.”
Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, who has previously filed similar legislation, said Florida could potentially use federal dollars to create the database. Additionally, she said it would create accountability.
“Having an online tracking system not only empowers our survivors to know where their kit is — was it tested, is there a connection — but it also helps us as policy makers be aware if there’s a backlog,” Eskamani said.
Gardner was present in all the bill’s committee stops and was in the House gallery during its passage. She received standing applause from members for her commitment to the effort.
“Human beings have a hard time with uncertainty,” said Rep. Scott Plakon, the Longwood Republican who co-sponsored the bill. “Here in our law for so many years, the people that need our help the most, that have been attacked in such a vicious and brutal way, have to live with uncertainty.”
The Senate version (SB 1002), sponsored by Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart, is scheduled Monday for its final committee stop, the Senate Appropriations Committee.