Bill aims to test, clear backlogged rape kits

- Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremonial signing of a bill in Tampa Thursday that lawmakers hope will help clear up the backlog of untested rape kits and prevent another backlog in the future.

The new law, which will take effect in July, sets guidelines on rape kit testing. The kits now have to be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Lab within 30 days and tested within 120 days.

Law enforcement agencies were previously not required to submit the kits for testing.

"I am proud to ceremonially sign this legislation today which will provide thousands of women with a renewed sense of safety and closure," Gov. Scott said during a news conference the FDLE's Tampa office.

The issue picked up steam last fall when it was revealed that more than 13,000 rape test kits had gone untested in Florida.

Officials have said the kits went untested for several reasons: the victim may have decided not to file a police report or move forward with the case, the state attorney determined there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute, or the suspect pleaded guilty.

Advocates have said the kits still should have been tested to keep the suspect's DNA on file because it could provide a hit in a previously unsolved case or in a future case.

"Just think what's going to happen here and throughout our country when all of these kits are tested in a timely manner," said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The governor was surrounded by lawmakers, victims' advocates and one victim.

"My heart is so full today about this legislation. It almost feels like Christmas for me. I am a sexual assault survivor," said Julia Weil, who, along with her kids, was abducted in 2002 from a Miami church. "That day, at knife-point, I was raped four times in front of both my children. I was beaten. I was robbed."

Weil's attacker is now serving seven life sentences. She said it's disturbing to her to think that so many other women haven't had the same kind of justice.

"Closure is not a myth. People used to say to me, 'you're not going to feel any different, your life is going to be the same whether he serves time or not.' That's not true. I have enormous closure knowing that he'll never get out and hurt anyone," Weil said. "What I like best about this bill is not just the justice that it gives to the sexual assault survivors who have already been through this, but it's acknowledgement on the part of the state that it's not going to happen again."

Gov. Scott has also pledged more than $10 million in the new budget to clear up the backlog.  However, experts have said that process could take years.

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