- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Thousands of rape cases could be solved and some victims' anguish lessened by expediting the processing of "rape kits," say supporters of a bill that would eliminate the backlog of DNA evidence collected in sexual-assault cases.

A bill to spend as much as $400 million to process thousands of these kits, which are supplied to emergency health facilities in sealed containers to collect evidence during a victim's medical exam, will be introduced this month in the Senate.

Unprocessed rape kits are sitting in evidence rooms throughout the nation because of a lack of state and local funds to process them, bill supporters say. The processing cost can range from a couple hundred dollars a kit to $2,000, depending on the circumstances of the attack.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, and Rep. Mark Green, Wisconsin Republican, are sponsoring the bill. A nearly identical bill passed unanimously in the Senate last year but didn't come up for a floor vote in the House.

"We really need to get some juice here and get it moving on the House side," Mr. Biden said.

The bill is called the Debbie Smith Act, named for a Williamsburg woman who was abducted from her home in 1989, taken into the woods and raped.

"He told me, 'Remember, I know where you live, and if you tell anyone I'll come back to kill you,' " said a tearful Mrs. Smith at a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday. "But, in reality, he'd already taken my life."

Mrs. Smith's attacker was jailed for another offense a few months after the assault, but she never knew because the DNA evidence collected from her wasn't analyzed by the state of Virginia and compared with the attacker's DNA until 1995.

This bill, Mr. Green said, would give state and local authorities the resources they need to conduct tests to either identify an incarcerated suspect or put the evidence in the record until a suspected attacker is found.

"The fact that hundreds of thousands of pieces of vital evidence essentially sit unused is simply outrageous," Mr. Green said.

Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, said as many as 500,000 rape kits nationally are waiting to be tested.

Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, New York Democrat, said the delay in getting this bill through the House last year was not because Republicans didn't support it but because it was passed in the Senate too late in the legislative year.

"I really do believe they just ran out of time," Mr. Weiner said. "This was nothing more than a logistical problem."

But it appears the Debbie Smith Act will wait two more months.

Jeff Lungren, spokesman for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, said no action is anticipated until the Justice Department completes a report that counts the number of untested rape kits nationwide.

The order for the report was folded into the Justice Department's budget authority for 2003. The report is due by May 2.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Green said they recognize that spending $400 million at a time of war, deficit and exploding growth in entitlement spending might be a tough sell.

"We are going to have to say that in relative terms, this is cheap," Mr. Biden said. "We're going to have to make some choices and find out what we know can be done."

Mr. Green, who described himself as a "limited-government conservative," said that protecting women by keeping rapists off the streets is a must-do for the government.

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