Rape-kit bill still in the works

GLENDALE — A bill by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino that would require law enforcement agencies to analyze rape kits in a timely manner must still clear two legislative hurdles before becoming law.

Assembly Bill 558 received bipartisan support from the Senate, which passed it 33 to 0.

"The reality of this is: This is a heinous crime," said Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge). "We have physical evidence; we need to process it."

The bill and its amendments must pass the Assembly a second time before returning to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for his signature.

The governor vetoed the bill in October 2009, saying it would create additional costs in an already-widening state budget crisis.

"I strongly support efforts to ensure that rape kits are analyzed and processed in a timely manner in order to identify and prosecute sex offenders," Schwarzenegger said in his veto statement. "However, requiring law enforcement agencies to provide backlog statistics to the [U.S. Department of Justice] would place significant cost burdens on these agencies and would divert scarce resources away from processing these kits."

The bill would require city and county law enforcement agencies to report the number of rape kits collected and tested annually to the Department of Justice. If the bill is signed into law, it would take effect Jan. 1.

Portantino said he was motivated to write the bill after 2008 reports that 47 police agencies and the city of Los Angeles never tested more than 10,000 rape kits, which remained unopened in their evidence lockers. Some of the kits involved hundreds of strange rape cases, he added.

"It's all about bringing some transparency to the system and having better coordination of the data, so that people can see how are we doing," Portantino said. "It's all about transparency and accountability, and ultimately better public safety."

The Glendale Police Department stores its rape kits in a freezer evidence locker, Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

The department has maintained its current rape kits, he added.

"Everything that we needed to be tested has been sent to be tested," Lorenz said.

Schwarzenegger expressed concerns in his veto statement last year about the agency reporting system, which he said didn't require the Department of Justice to manage the records. He added that if the agency was to collect the records, the move could require costs.

But Portantino said costs ultimately fall on the victims, whose perpetrators will never be prosecuted for their crimes.

"To me, when you talk about prioritizing funds and limited resources, frontline physical evidence against a perpetrator of a heinous crime should be high on people's list," Portantino said.

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