The Assembly Judiciary committee heard strong support Wednesday for two nearly identical bills mandating testing of backlogged DNA sexual assault kits in Nevada.
There are more than 8,000 kits taken from sexual assault victims that haven’t been tested for DNA evidence — some of them decades old.
One of the main issues is the cost of those tests, which Assistant Attorney General Wes Duncan said can range as high as $1,200 to $1,500 per kit.
The Attorney General’s office has submitted AB55 to mandate the testing. Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez Thompson introduced AB97 to order the testing.
Both said most of the cost of the actual testing is being paid by federal grant dollars. Duncan said the state has received about $8 million in grants to do the testing so far.
He said there are a total of 7,652 sexual assault kits in custody of Nevada law enforcement agencies that need to be tested.
That prompted Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, to ask how this situation ever occurred.
“How did this happen?” he asked. “How did something of this nature not get addressed?”
He said somewhere along the line, someone “dropped the ball.”
Thompson agreed saying it was “a complete failure on a lot of different parts.”
She said, however, passage of this legislation would “right this wrong.”
Duncan said a total of 2,456 kits have been sent to laboratories inside Nevada and out of state.
He said 984 kits have been tested, resulting in 213 DNA panels that could be compared to the federal DNA database. He said that resulted in 58 “hits,” matches to someone’s DNA profile. So far, he said, there have been eight arrests and 11 search warrants issued.
He and Thompson said the bills would mandate rape kits be turned over to laboratories within 30 days after the evidence is collected by a nurse examiner. Duncan said the tests are taken in every case where there’s an allegation of sexual assault whether the victim is male, female or a juvenile.
Washoe and Clark counties originally put a fiscal note on the bills totaling more than $1.8 million a year. Those two counties are home to the two crime labs in Nevada capable of performing the DNA tests to FBI standards.
But Thompson said she has agreed to an amendment that would remove the mandate those tests be conducted within 180 days after the rape kits are submitted to the labs. Chuck Callaway representing Clark County’s lab, said that deadline would require the southern lab alone to hire an additional seven people and install nearly a half million dollars worth of new equipment. Eric Spratley, representing the Washoe crime lab, said they too lack the personnel to conduct all the testing that quickly.
Officials of both counties said removing the 180-day deadline would eliminate the fiscal notes.
There was no opposition to AB97, which no longer has the 180-day deadline in it.
The committee must act on the issue by the close of business Friday.