Bill to stop future backlog of untested rape kits appears dead

    AG Josh Kaul holds a news conference on sexual assault evidence kits. (Photo by Melanie Conklin)
    AG Josh Kaul holds a news conference on sexual assault evidence kits. (Photo by Melanie Conklin)

    The bipartisan bill that was designed to make certain there is never again a massive backlog of untested sexual-assault kits died Thursday. 

    It appeared doomed, despite the fact that AB 214 was authored by Republicans, had the support of 72 legislators from both parties and had passed the state Senate unanimously with no controversy last October.

    In the final day of Assembly session for the year on Thursday, Speaker Robin Vos did not relent on blocking AB 214. 

    Vos and Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) refused to let AB 214 out of the health committee, and Republicans rebuffed Democratic efforts to bring it straight to the floor. Steffen testified to the health committee that while there were enough floor votes to pass the bipartisan bill, leadership would not allow a vote unless the majority of Republicans in their caucus would agree to vote for it.

    Instead, Republicans advanced a new, partisan version that eliminated funding for implementation and set aside expert testimony from law enforcement, medical providers (including forensic nurses) and victim advocate groups. Representatives of these groups had showed up at the health committee to plead for passage instead of the bipartisan bill, which a number of them called “trauma informed.”

    GOP sexual assault kit bill authors Janel Brandtjen, Andre Jacque, David Steffen, Jeremy Thiesfeldt testify on their new bill AB 844 at a public hearing on sexual assault evidence kits. (Photo by Melanie Conklin)
    GOP sexual assault kit bill authors Janel Brandtjen, Andre Jacque, David Steffen, Jeremy Thiesfeldt testify on their new bill AB 844 at a public hearing on sexual assault evidence kits. (Photo by Melanie Conklin)

    The partisan bill, AB 844, also included measures linking it to issues Republicans knew Democrats would reject: one provision supporting private school vouchers for victims assaulted in public schools and another requiring local authorities notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if an arrested sexual assault suspect is not a U.S. citizen.

    Talking to reporters Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said, “I don’t have the support for taking up the bill with those amendments in there as we sit here today.” 

    Attorney General Josh Kaul put extensive effort into attempting to move the bipartisan bill forward in the Assembly.

    He stressed that AB 214 built on work by law and medical professionals and survivor advocates that had begun under the two Republican attorneys general who served before him.

    Kaul was very unhappy to see the bill that was built on years of bipartisan, expert work being killed.

    “There’s one reason that sexual assault kit reform legislation apparently isn’t going to pass in this session: Assembly Republicans have chosen to block it,” said Kaul. “The State Senate came together in a bipartisan fashion to pass legislation supported by advocates for survivors, nurses and law enforcement that can help prevent a future backlog of untested sexual assault kits. But rather than passing that important bipartisan legislation, Assembly Republicans have chosen to prioritize political point counting over justice for survivors and public safety.”

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.