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Gov. Evers signs two bills to help Wisconsin sexual assault victims and survivors

Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers displays the bills he signed in West Bend on Monday.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has signed into law two bills aimed at helping sexual assault victims and survivors.

One bill will set up a formal procedure for collecting sexual assault evidence kits and submitting them to the state crime lab for processing and retention. The Wisconsin Department of Justice will have to publish at least annual reports on law enforcement compliance on getting information from collected assault kits.

The other bill creates a tracking system for survivors to anonymously access information about the status of their sexual assault kit as it moves through the criminal justice process.

Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul speaks at Monday's news conference at FRIENDS, Inc., in West Bend. Kate Nickel of FRIENDS is at far right.

The measures come after years of problems with the kits, including backlogs at the crime lab.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul attended the bill-signing news conference Monday at a domestic violence shelter in West Bend. Kaul said it hasn't been strictly an issue at the labs.

"Those kits were stored in police agencies or hospitals and were never submitted to the state crime lab for testing. There were 6,800 kits that were identified. Over the course of several years, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, under both the prior Attorney General [Brad Schimmel] and me, worked on testing kits identified for testing, within that backlog," Kaul said. "In November 2019, we announced testing had been completed on those kits. We are still in the process of following up on cases where foreign DNA was identified. Some people were convicted of serious crimes. But we need to make sure there is never another backlog of untested sexual assault kits again, and the two bills being signed are going to help make sure that never happens."

Kate Nickel runs the FRIENDS, Inc., shelter and service agency where the measures were signed. She calls them monumental.

"We know that it will bring ease and access to survivors in accessing their sexual assault tracking kit. Additionally, it will put in place simplified procedures for all criminal justice systems to report to," Nickel said.

Evers repeatedly thanked Republican majorities in the state Senate and Assembly for joining Democrats to pass the bills. At least one GOP lawmaker attended the bill-signing, but only Democrats spoke.

Evers said bipartisanship in Madison is not rare.

"Would we all like to have it happen more often? 'Yes!' Would we like to have it happen in a way that people aren't denigrating each other? 'Yes!'" Evers said.

And now, both major political parties can claim they've done something more for sexual assault victims.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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