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Sexual-assault kit tracking bill OK’d by Senate committee

RALEIGH (AP) A bill establishing a statewide tracking system for sexual assault evidence kits so victims can follow them through the process got approval June 5 from one North Carolina legislative committee. But some legislators and the attorney general are asking: Where’s the money?

A state Senate judiciary committee gave a favorable report to a new version of the bill. In addition to the tracking system, the bill also orders creation of a working group to determine priority for the testing of rape kits that have languished for too long.

Some committee members questioned the lack of funding in the bill for all the changes, but especially the tracking system. Republican Sen. Shirley Randleman, a bill sponsor, said the officials need to know the precise extent of the problem before appropriating money.

“We did not appropriate any funding because we felt a process needs to be in place and there needs to some determination on how many rape kits we’re going to need to test before we appropriate money,” she responded.

In addition to the tracking system, Attorney General Josh Stein has said it would cost about $10 million to test the entire backlog of about 15,000 kits. That number comes from an audit of law enforcement agencies that was ordered by legislators and released in February.

Stein, whose office oversees the crime lab, also emphasized the need for funding for the projects in the bill. “This bill, which my office developed, is a step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go,” he said in a statement. “We need funding from the legislature to begin outsourcing” the backlog of kits and to develop the tracking system.

While legislators have approved the state budget, they have about $500 million that can be appropriated for other projects.

The bill also requires that any kits purchased and distributed after Oct. 1 be compatible with a tracking system, and it sets a Dec. 1 deadline for the working group recommendations to be submitted to the legislature.

A similar bill has been filed in the state House.

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