ATLANTA - The state now has a comprehensive plan for how to handle sexual assault evidence kits after it was discovered that some had sat untested on shelves for years.
Governor Nathan Deal signed the "Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Act" into law in his ceremonial office Tuesday morning.
"I was very proud of all of the individuals who worked so hard on this," said Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, the bill's original sponsor. "We had a great team and we never gave up--from the law enforcement community to the care providers and especially, especially the victim's rights advocates and victims themselves."
The bill requires care providers who administer rape kits to immediately notify local law enforcement at the victim's request. Officers then have 96 hours to collect the evidence and 30 days to turn it over the the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for DNA analysis.
"We wanted to have it be a time period that would be achievable and now we have that and we have set absolute guidelines that will make sure that going forward, Georgia will not be one of the state that has an issue with backlogged rape kits," Holcomb explained.
According to GBI Director Vernon Keenan, the agency currently has about 1,800 previously untested kits in its possession that hospitals and law enforcement agencies have turned over in the past several months. A large number of them came from Grady Hospital, but hundreds of others were from agencies all over the state. At least one envelope dated back to 1998.
"There's been misunderstandings about what law enforcement needed to do with the rape kits," said Keenan. "At one time and when we first began the DNA analysis at the GBI crime laboratory, we did not accept rape kits unless there was a suspect in the case. That changed decades ago, but many law enforcement agencies operated under that outdated policy."
In an exclusive story last week, we reported the GBI shipped the first 50 of those kits to a private lab in Salt Lake City for testing.
Rep. Holcomb said this law will prevent sexual assault kits from sitting on shelves in the future.
"We wanted to have it be a time period that would be achievable and now we have that and we have set absolute guidelines that will make sure that going forward, Georgia will not be one of the state that has an issue with backlogged rape kits."
Under the law, law enforcement agencies have until July 31, 2016 to collect any rape kits performed before July 1,2016. They then have until August 31, 2016 to turn them over to the GBI. After that, any new evidence will fall under the new 30 day policy.