Washington pushes to clear 10,000 untested rape kits, bill heads to governor's desk

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Washington State lawmakers passed a bill that aims to clear thousands of untested rape kits sitting on shelves at crime labs and police departments.

House Bill 1166 cleared both Chambers unanimously and with bipartisan support last week.

The bill provides $10 million in funding to hire additional forensic scientists, install new higher capacity equipment and build new laboratory and analysis space.

Unlike in Oregon, all other DNA testing for different crimes will continue at their normal rates. The funding is specifically designated for rape kit testing.

In 2015, state lawmakers passed a bill ordering law enforcement agencies to clear thousands of untested rape kits.

Right now, the backlog is estimated to be 10,000. Most of the untested kits only date back to 2016. The older kits, dating back to the nineties, were sent to private labs for quicker testing.

"We got this onrush of kits," Washington State Police Forensic Scientist Krista Zaruba told KATU, talking about the 2015 law. "This bill will give us the money, so we can hire those that we need, so we can catch up with the backlog, and also get new instrumentation that we need to get these kits tested more quickly."

Zaruba says some of the new equipment will be able to test more DNA samples at a time. It's also more efficient, streamlining the process.

In anticipation of the bill's signing, the WSP Crime Laboratory is preparing for expansion. Construction will begin soon to install new lab space.

"This area will be the workbenches for the analysts," Brad Dixon, WSP's Supervising Forensic Scientist, said. "To be able to help get these investigations and things like that, is why we all do this work."

Scientists estimate they will be able to complete the work in only two years.

The bill also requires victim-centric training for law enforcement officers performing sexual assault investigations.

Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill at any time.

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