Bills to Address Rape Kit Backlog, Fund Sexual Assault Services Provide More Money, Flexibility

Armstrong, Maestas Bills to Address Rape Kit Backlog, Fund Sexual Assault Services Provide More Money, Flexibility

HB 230 & HB 231 to be Heard Tuesday in Committees


Two bills introduced by Rep. Deborah Armstrong and Rep. Moe Maestas—one to address the backlog in processing rape evidence in New Mexico and one to fund sexual assault services— will be heard in separate committees on Tuesday as part of a debate about not simply funding key programs as previously passed legislation has done, but also to provide more flexibility on how to spend those dollars.


Specifically, HB 230 proposes a $2-million expenditure for the Department of Public Safety to spend as needed on equipment or staff in order to process backlogged rape kits. HB 231 provides $1.5 million for the Department of Health to use at its discretion to support sexual assault services.


“We all agree it is time to put an end to sexual assault in New Mexico,” Armstrong said. “The issue is not whether we address sexual assault in New Mexico, but rather how we address it. It is important that we fund the critical programs needed to deliver justice for victims and to provide needed services. However, we must also give the agencies responsible the leeway to make the decisions that work best for them.”


The House of Representatives recently passed legislation, HB 130, which provided an appropriation of $1.2 million to DPS solely to hire new, full-time employees to process rape kits. The money could not be spent on anything other than full-time employees. HB 131 provided $1 million for DOH to use only to contract with specific organizations to provide services. Armstrong and Maestas say those bills, while meaningful and well intentioned, are too limiting.


“We appreciate the overwhelming support that the House of Representatives has shown for victims of sexual violence,” Armstrong said. “We also appreciate that the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Health are in the best position to know what is needed – whether it’s employees or equipment or contractors – to address this problem.”


Over the past year, information has surfaced showing that across the country rape evidence kits collected by trained professionals directly from sexual assault survivors at the time of the crime have not been processed, leaving cases open and perpetrators unprosecuted. While the Department of Public Safety estimates the number of unprocessed kits in New Mexico to be around 1,200, other sources put that number at more than 5,000.


“The exact number of unprocessed rape kits will not change the fact that even one victim’s being denied justice is one to many,” Armstrong said. “We must take immediate action to restore faith in our justice system.”


HB 231 will be heard by the House Health Committee Tuesday morning; HB 230 will be heard in House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon.


About Rep. Armstrong: Debbie is a long-time health care advocate. Having started her career as a physical therapist, she has worked extensively as a health care administrator, working 10 years with Presbyterian Medical Services in Santa Fe. Prior to serving as Secretary of New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Terms Services Department, she oversaw the department’s Consumer and Elder Rights Division. Debbie is the mother of three adult children. She lives in Albuquerque’s North Valley.  Follow her on Twitter @NMRepArmstrong and on Facebook, and sign up for email and text updates.

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