(The Center Square) DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed two bills to support sexual assault survivors.
HF 426 establishes tighter, automated tracking and quicker transfer of any kit preserving evidence of sexual abuse after a reported victim undergoes a forensic medical exam than the existing law.
If passed, the bill will be paid for out of receipts to the Victim Compensation Fund, which includes criminal fines and penalties, victim restitution, a percentage of wages earned by inmates employed in the private sector, and federal funds, according to the fiscal note for the bill. Administration costs in FY 2023 are estimated at $157,700 and annually will rise a projected 2 percent the Attorney General’s Office estimates.
“We’re thrilled it passed, and we’re grateful to all the groups that worked with us on this bill, including law enforcement and survivors groups,” Lynn Hicks, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, told The Center Square.
HF 603 creates a sexual assault forensic examiner program within the Attorney General’s office that will train, certify and provide technical assistance to medical professionals in providing these services, including the use of sexual assault kits. Two full-time equivalent positions will administer the program, collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and medical providers to update related best practices, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
In 2015, the Attorney General’s office’s Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative determined there were 4,2000 untested sexual assault evidence kits in Iowa, according to a news release from the office last fall.
State Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, floor manager of the bill in the House, said tracking the kits will help convict perpetrators by ensuring evidence is available when victims go to trial.
The Attorney General’s office rolled out a software program, Track-Kit, last fall, the office announced in the news release. The program enables Iowa sexual assault survivors to track the status of their evidence kits “from collection at the hospital, to pick up by law enforcement, to delivery to the crime lab for analysis and back to law enforcement.”
The office’s Crime Victim Assistance Division received a $796,985 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice to develop and implement the system.
Sexual abuse nurse examiners have been conducting sexual assault exams for “many, many years, but there was no situation through which we could control the training consistency and the quality of the services,” State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, said.
“It makes the experience of going through a sexual abuse examination a lot more professional, higher quality and much more comfortable,” she added.
“This bill is critical because of a shortage of trained sexual assault nurse examiners, both in Iowa and nationally,” Hicks told The Center Square in a texted statement.