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TN legislature discussing bills aimed at requiring faster rape kit processing from TBI

The bill, HB 0104, would also require TBI to write a plan for eliminating any existing backlog of sexual assault evidence collection kits.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill making its way through the state legislature would require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to perform forensic analysis of sexual assault evidence collection kits within 30 days of receiving them from a law enforcement agency.

One bill, HB 0104, was introduced by Representative Antonio Parkinson (R - Memphis). If it passes, the TBI would need to hasten the speed at which they process the kits starting Jan. 1, 2024. In October, TBI said that it takes around 43 weeks for a kit to be processed at its Knoxville lab, 42.4 weeks at its Jackson lab and 32.7 weeks at its Nashville lab.

It would also require the TBI to submit a plan for eliminating a backlog of sexual assault evidence collection kits within 45 days of when the bill passes.

Another bill aims to accomplish a similar goal. SB 0014 was introduced by Senator London Lamar (D - Memphis) and passed the Senate on March 20. However, it was amended to require TBI to provide quarterly updates on their work to hire and train forensic services employees. The bureau would also need to report the average amount of time taken to perform forensic analysis on kits.

By Jan. 1, 2025, SB 0014 would also need to submit a report discussing what the bureau would need in order to perform forensic analysis within 60 days of receiving a kit from law enforcement.

A survivor in Knoxville said it took around two and a half years for her case to get to trial.

"I actually did not get any information back on my rape kit, but they used it during trial. But it takes so long," said Erin Conner, an advocate for survivors of sexual assault. "Waiting is the hardest part throughout this whole process, not just with the rape kit. But, I would definitely say to push forward, keep going and get that closure you need to move on with your life."

Catherine Oakes, the Director of Victim Services at the McNabb Center, said the local sexual assault center sends an average of around 350 kits for DNA testing per year.

"Many times if the case is going to be prosecuted, they won't initiate that process until they get the rape kit results back. If you're not getting those results back for at least nine months, it's just an extension of that already lengthy process through the criminal justice system," she said. "It can really make things difficult for survivors. Just sitting around, waiting, wanting to get through this process of a very traumatic event but then having to keep waiting longer and longer."

If the TBI gets confirmation from a law enforcement agency or a district attorney's office that a DNA record was not connected to a criminal investigation, then the TBI would need to expunge that record. The bill specifically says that even if the DNA record is not expunged, a DNA match could not be challenged in court.

TBI also announced on March 6 that it would start outsourcing the testing of at least 550 rape kits to a private lab in Florida — DNA Labs International in Deerfield Beach. The bureau said they would fund outsourcing the rape kits through a $1.5 million federal grant. 

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include information about both SB 0014 and HB 0104.

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