After months of fighting for its reauthorization, Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner praised the U.S. House for finally putting the Debbie Smith Act — a federal program that provides resources and grants to state and local agencies to tackle rape kits — to a vote Wednesday evening.
The U.S. House approved the reauthorization in a 402-1 vote.
“The Debbie Smith Act will help eliminate the horrifying rape kit backlog that allows predators to roam freely and prevents victims from finding justice,” Wagner, who championed the legislation, said in a statement to The Missouri Times, adding it was “unconscionable that this legislation was allowed to expire at all.”
Since 2004, the U.S. Congress has been able to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act every five years. It provides $151 million in funding to eligible state and local agencies, including law enforcement and attorney general offices, annually for rape kit and DNA testing, whittling down the backlog, training on collecting evidence, and reenforcing crime labs.
But it expired at the end of September without reauthorization. Wagner, a Missouri Republican, blamed House leadership for holding it up despite wide bipartisan support and the U.S. Senate passing its own version.
More than 475,800 hits from CODIS, the FBI’s DNA database have helped with over 465,200 investigations as of July 2019 — and 42 percent of those hits are because of the Debbie Smith Act, according to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Missouri agencies across the state have been allocated between $15-20 million since 2009 under the Debbie Smith Act, Wagner has told The Missouri Times.
“While House passage is a great step forward, I am concerned that Speaker Pelosi continues to politicize the Debbie Smith Act and has chosen a multi-step process over a solution that could become law today,” Wagner said Wednesday.
She noted the Senate added stronger accountability and performance measures not included in the House version. But she stressed a version needs to be sent to the president’s desk soon.
Wagner also praised New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, her Democratic counterpart, for fighting for reauthorization.
In Missouri, state Sen. Jill Schupp has been working to expand access to rape kits. She’s proposed legislation requiring hospitals within a 50-mile radius of all post-secondary schools have the ability to conduct rape kits for victims.
The distance requirement would ensure essentially every hospital in Missouri would fall under the bill’s umbrella.
The bill failed to make it through the General Assembly during this legislative session, but Schupp plans to push for it again next year.
“If any victim is brave enough to walk into a hospital or clinic and provide a rape kit and provide the DNA and go through the further trauma that’s associated with that, it’s absolutely incumbent upon us — it’s our duty — to get it tested and put into the database to see if we can find that sexual predator who could be preying on other women also and get her some form of justice,” Wagner said.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.