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Wagner, Schmitt request end to ‘standoff’ over federal rape kit legislation reauthorization

   

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. Congresswoman Ann Wagner teamed up to request assurance a federal program that provides resources to state and local agencies for the handling of rape kits is reauthorized. 

The pair of Missourians sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday asking for the reauthorization of the Debbie Smith Act to be included in end-of-year appropriation packages. Since 2004, Congress has been able to reauthorize the grant program every five years — but this year it’s been log jammed as the House and Senate passed their own versions. 

The Debbie Smith Act provides $151 million in funding to eligible state and local entities, including law enforcement and attorneys general offices, annually for rape kit and DNA testing, whittling down the backlog, training on evidence collection, and reenforcing crime labs. 

“For victims across the country, this program is no less important than the many other programs, including national flood insurance and community health centers, that were reauthorized in the continuing resolutions in September and November 2019,” the letter said. 

Wagner, a Republican from the 2nd congressional district in Missouri, has been a vocal proponent of the Debbie Smith Act, particularly in recent months. 

“I want to keep this money coming into the state of Missouri so we can work on this backlog and ultimately put these sexual predators behind bars and get justice for these poor victims who have waited far too long to have these rape kits actually tested and the matching done,” Wagner told The Missouri Times in September. 

And Schmitt, who has led the Attorney General’s Office for nearly a year, has made tackling Missouri’s untested rape kits a priority during his tenure. A recent audit from his office found more than 6,100 untested kits across the state along with nearly 1,000 more that might need to be retested. 

“Submitting to a sexual assault kit and examination is an invasive process and takes outstanding courage — we need to honor that courage by ensuring that those responsible for these horrible crimes are held accountable for their actions,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Providing funding for the state’s crime labs and other resources is an essential first step to bringing perpetrators to justice.” 

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 said.  

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