TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — State lawmakers are bolstering their efforts to create a database to track rape kits in Florida.
State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D–Boca Raton, and State Sen. Linda Stewart, D–Orlando, held a news conference in Tallahassee on Tuesday to discuss HB 673/SB 1002, also known as "Gail's Law."
HB 673 passed a House Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. The measure now heads to the House floor for a vote.
If passed, the legislation would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create and maintain a statewide system for tracking sexual assault evidence kits from the point of collection through the criminal justice process.
"No one should have to watch their attacker escape justice because evidence from a sexual assault kit was last for not process," Slosberg said.
The tracking system would be accessible to survivors of sexual assault, giving them the option of opting-in for updates on the status of the evidence in their case.
Thirty states and Washington, D.C. have implemented a statewide database for tracking sexual assault kits, according to Slosberg.
The bill is named after Gail Gardner, a Central Florida woman who was raped in 1988 by a stranger inside her own home.
Gardner reported the crime and went to the hospital where a rape examination was conducted. However, her rape kit was untested for three decades.
Clearing the backlog of untested rape kits has been a major focus in Florida over recent years.
Julie Weil of the Not Just Me Foundation was behind the effort to require rape kits be sent to the crime lab within 30 days, the testing process must be completed within 120 days.
"The next step we're moving on to is the tracking bill. If it passes, survivors can have some kind of control or touchstone to know where their DNA is, so DNA kits don't get lost anymore," Weil said.
In 2019, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement completed a three-year project to process older sexual assault kits submitted by local law enforcement agencies to FDLE labs following a 2016 Sexual Assault Kit Assessment.
In total, 8,023 sexual assault kits were processed which resulted in 1,814 hits using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
CODIS enables federal, state and local agencies to compare DNA profiles electronically, linking crimes to each other and known offenders.
Weil called this an extra layer of accountability with the potential to bring victims one step closer to justice.
"It's a little bit of control that you're handing back over to a survivor," Weil said.