February 21, 2023

Cortez Masto & Colleagues Renew Bipartisan Push to Ensure Timely Processing of Rape Kits

Federal law enforcement program is set to expire in 2024

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto, John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and their colleagues are renewing their bipartisan push to ensure rape kits are tested in a timely, efficient manner by introducing legislation to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act.

Originally signed into law in 2004, the Debbie Smith Act provides state and local law enforcement agencies with resources to complete forensic analyses of crime scenes and untested rape kits, and it is set to expire next year if Congress doesn’t act. This legislation provided the federal resources necessary for Nevada to clear its rape kit backlog in 2020, and continued funding will ensure the state can continue to bring perpetrators to justice.

“I’ve stood up for victims of sexual assault since I was Nevada’s Attorney General—and these resources are crucial for delivering justice to survivors,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I urge my colleagues to reauthorize this essential program as soon as possible.” 

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Kennedy (R-LA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

The Debbie Smith Act was originally signed into law to provide local and state crime laboratories resources to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved crimes, analyze DNA samples, and increase the capacity to process DNA in order to guard against future backlogs. Since it became law, more than 860,000 DNA cases have been processed. In addition to crime scene evidence, Debbie Smith funds are also utilized to process offender DNA samples to ensure evidence from unsolved crimes can be matched against a database of known offenders, similar to the criminal fingerprint databases.

This legislation is endorsed by Debbie Smith, the Fraternal Order of Police, Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs of America, National District Attorneys Association, Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), and Joyful Heart Foundation.

Senator Cortez Masto has been an outspoken advocate for victims of domestic violencesexual assault, and human trafficking, going back to her time as Nevada’s Attorney General. She cosponsored and helped reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which helps law enforcement arrest violent predators and improve access to resources for survivors. The VAWA reauthorization included her bipartisan Fairness for Rape Kit Backlog Survivors Act, which requires state programs to allow sexual assault victims to file for compensation without being unfairly penalized for delays due to rape kit backlogs.

Cortez Masto also led the call for robust funding for the Byrne JAG grant to make sure that law enforcement has the resources it needs to hold perpetrators accountable. She has passed bipartisan legislation to provide survivors of domestic violence with the opportunity to withdraw money from their retirement plans without penalty in an emergency and introduced legislation to require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect data on the connection between domestic violence and traumatic brain injuries.