Last Friday the Oregon Senate unanimously approved “a bill aimed at ensuring that sexual assault evidence is submitted for lab testing in a timely manner and not left untouched on police evidence shelves,” according to a report in The Oregonian. The bill is named for a teenage Northeast Portland girl who was raped and murdered across the street from her home in 2001.
Melissa’s Bill, as it is known, focuses on untested sexual assault kits because of the discovery that “sexual assault kits from at least two other young teens raped by the girl’s killer four years earlier sat on the Portland Police Bureau’s evidence shelves” and were not tested until a connection was drawn between them and the 2001 case. According to the newspaper the girl’s parents hoped that their child’s death would at least lead to a change in police procedures, and to more timely testing of rape and assault kits. When a newspaper investigation revealed that despite the passage of more than a decade little had changed Melissa’s parents went to the legislature.
As described by the paper the bill will require that, beginning next January 1, “each police agency in Oregon shall adopt written policies and procedures concerning the collection, submission for testing and retention of the kits. Under the bill police must pick up the kits within seven days after a hospital alerts them about a kit’s existence and submit them to the state crime lab for testing within 14 days of receipt. All kits must be stored for 60 years.”
The measure now goes to the House where it is scheduled for consideration this week. As an Oregon lawyer with a special focus on injuries to children I urge everyone to contact their representatives in Salem in the hopes this measure will win the sort of broad bi-partisan support in the House that it enjoyed in the Senate. The Oregonian’s article on the bill also notes that the state forensics lab is currently badly underfunded. The bill also seeks to address that – providing funds to help implement the new measures. The cost is small when compared to the peace of mind it will offer parents in knowing that should something terrible happen to their child there will now be a requirement that the evidence be treated properly and tested promptly.