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Minn. cops now have tighter requirements on rape kits

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State Rep. Marion O'Neill talks about a new law on testing rape kits.
Minnesota state Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, talks about a new law on testing rape kits at a press conference in the State Office Building on Wednesday.
Jiwon Choi | MPR News

Minnesota law enforcement agencies now must collect rape kits within 10 days and submit the kits for testing in another 60 days when a victim requests it, under a new state law. 

The law, which takes effect Wednesday, aims to reform procedures in handling sexual assault rape kits. It comes in response to a 2015 Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension audit that found a statewide backlog of 3,482 untested rape kits in police storage.

"The goal of this particular legislation with this very large working group of about 30 organizations is to provide victims with respect, to provide victims with due process and with justice," state Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, said at a press conference Wednesday. She helped push the measure through the state House.

Police are now required to retrieve unrestricted kits, or those where the victim agrees to report the assault to police and to have the kits tested. In cases where victims don't want to report, the kits are considered restricted and are stored in hospitals and clinics. 

If law enforcement determines that testing a kit could help its investigation, police send the kit to forensic labs for analysis. 

Data from rape kit testing then go to state databases to store DNA and other information for convicted or arrested sex offenders.

O'Neill said she hopes that part of law helps lower the number of serial rapes that account for about 50 percent of total sexual assault cases. 

"We want to make sure that these serial rapists are taken off the streets and that we have safe streets," O'Neill said. 

Along with how to process rape kits, the new law sets rules that law enforcement agencies respond to victims' requests for information about their kits within 30 days. 

"It's important for them to have access to that information, what's happening with it," said Teri Walker McLaughlin, executive director of Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which participated in writing the bill. 

O'Neill said state agencies will make collaborative efforts to make sure the new law works effectively. 

"I can guarantee you that the sheriff's association, the Chief of Police Association and County Attorney's Association the BCA, OJP have all been looking at that," said O'Neill. "They are very good at monitoring what's going on."

Lawmakers will set a budget for forensic labs testing rape kits next year, O'Neill said. 

The BCA says testing a sexual assault kit costs about $1,000. Under the current law, the county where an assault occurs must pay for the examination.