- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Momentum for a bill that would help solve thousands of cold rape cases has stalled in the House.

The delays have frustrated supporters of the Debbie Smith Act, which would earmark $90 million over the next five years to use new DNA technology to catch rapists. The bill has languished in the House Judiciary Committee, controlled by Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican.

Democrats are reluctant to criticize Mr. Sensenbrenner’s handling of the matter on the record, fearing that the public airing of those frustrations would be counterproductive.

“The stuff in Debbie Smith could be on the president’s desk next week,” said one Democratic aide. “Why the wait?”

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, introduced the bill in the House with Rep. Mark Green, Wisconsin Republican, in March. Both legislators said they are hopeful the bill will move soon.

“The Debbie Smith bill is something that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on and get to the president quickly since it will lock up sex offenders and get them off the street,” Mrs. Maloney said.

Chris Tuttle, a spokesman for Mr. Green, said the congressman “feels pretty good” about the status of the bill and thinks “we’re making good progress.”

“We’re all excited about the bill and want it to move as quickly as possible,” Mr. Tuttle said. “[Mr. Green] is very optimistic something will happen this year.”

However, some off Capitol Hill are not as optimistic.

Debbie Smith of Williamsburg — a rape victim whom the legislation is named after — quit her job to push for the passage of this bill, which would spend federal dollars to process thousands of DNA “rape kits,” which contain evidence collected during a victim’s medical exam. She is frustrated at the lack of progress in passing a bill that would help process the estimated 500,000 rape kits sitting in police evidence rooms around the country.

“When the [Washington area] sniper was out there, no one questioned if we had the money to find the shooters, yet we don’t have the money to get these rapists off the street,” Mrs. Smith said.

Jeff Lungren, spokesman for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Sensenbrenner hopes to address the rape kit backlog, and many other crime issues, later this year.

“The chairman is committed to addressing these issues, is addressing these issues now, and will continue to address them,” Mr. Lungren said.

Laura Neuman, a Baltimore rape victim who has started a foundation to help victims, held a fund-raiser on May 8 to help fund programs that the Debbie Smith Act would support. She helped raise $10,000 — with the help of the Smith family, which spent its 31st wedding anniversary at the event.

“What are we saying to the victims when we’re not willing [to pass the bill]?” Mrs. Neuman said. “We’re telling them that it’s not important. … There should be a system to help them.”

Mrs. Smith has always considered herself a Republican — indeed, she initially declined to reveal that fact to one of the bill’s champions, the liberal Mrs. Maloney, for fear it would hurt the cause. Now, says Mrs. Smith, she and the congresswoman joke about it. But she still feels frustration that the Republican-controlled Congress is dragging its feet.

“It’s a shame that one man should have that much power,” Mrs. Smith said, referring to Mr. Sensenbrenner. “I appreciate what he does, and I appreciate the responsibility that he has on his shoulders. I feel that if we could get a chance to talk to him, to tell him about the devastation that this causes to the victim and their families, I think he’d support it.

“He would see what he could do for women in this country by allowing it to go through and stop holding it up in Congress,” she added.


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