ANNAPOLIS (March 19, 2019)—Multiple bills that would provide protection and treatment for victims of sexual assault, as well as assist local law enforcement agencies with the testing and tracking of rape kits, made their way through the House and Senate, ahead of the Monday deadline for bills to crossover into the other chamber.
These bills are the byproduct of a January report on sexual assault evidence kits in the state, produced by the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee.
The committee was created in 2017 and is chaired by the Office of the Attorney General. Multiple stakeholders, including law enforcement, medical professionals, victim advocates and legislators make up the board.
Privacy and reimbursement for sexual assault evidence kits
Senate bill 933, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, and House bill 1248, sponsored by Delegate Sandy Bartlett, D-Anne Arundel, would provide more protections for victims of sexual assault.
The measures would prohibit medical personnel from using the name, narrative or photographs of a victim in order to receive reimbursement for testing or examination.
In lieu of those, medical personnel would present a diagnostic code that could be accepted for reimbursement.
"If you are a sexual assault victim, you do not want anyone to know your circumstances without your personal consent," Bartlett said at a March 5 House committee hearing.
The deadline for which medical personnel can be reimbursed for the testing of rape kits and cervical swabs would also be extended from five days to 15 days.
The committee recommended that the reimbursement policy be adjusted to reflect advancements in research.
This legislation would allow more victims of sexual assault to come forward and be tested for more days after the assault occurred. Many hospitals do not conduct tests for victims following the five-day window because of the current limits, according to the report.
Lisae C. Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said at the House hearing that tests are used for emergency medical treatment and collection of evidence for prosecution of sex offenders.
While the Senate version of the bill has not made its way out of its committee, the House version passed that chamber unanimously on March 10 and has been assigned to a Senate committee.
Rape Kit Testing Grant Fund
House bill 1268, sponsored by Delegate Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore, and Senate bill 569, sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel, would establish the Rape Kit Testing Grant Fund to assist local law enforcement agencies with the testing of rape kits.
The Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention would be in charge of dispersing a $2.6 million federal grant to local jurisdictions and would make sure that each has a forensic laboratory to use the funds.
The three-year grant will be used to test more rape kits, many of which go untested, as well as developing a statewide tracking system for the kits.
A system is also being developed for victims to track the status of their kits.
The committee's report stated that there is a backlog in Maryland untested rape kits, but it is not in the "traditional sense."
Local law enforcement agencies leave kits untested, according to the committee's report, because, for example, the suspect's identity is known, the state's attorney declined to prosecute or because an assailant pleaded guilty.
Hettleman told Capital News Service the shift in procedure is the result of a change in thinking. She said testing kits can help not only solve crimes, but connect cases, identify serial offenders and exonerate wrongfully convicted suspects.
The Senate version of the bill has not made its way out of its committee, while the House version passed unanimously on the floor on March 7 and has been assigned to a Senate committee.
Pilot program for HIV prevention
House bill 1249, sponsored by Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery, and Senate bill 657, sponsored by Senators Nancy King and William Smith Jr., both Montgomery Democrats, would establish a pilot program for HIV prevention for victims of alleged rape or sexual assault.
The three-year pilot program would provide victims full access to HIV non-occupational post-exposure prophylactic treatment, a recommendation of the committee.
The full 28-day treatment must be taken within 72 hours for maximum efficiency, but Maryland only reimburses victims for three to seven days, according to the report.
If a victim has health insurance, co-pays for the treatment can be as high as $1,000, and victims without insurance can be forced to pay between $3,312 and $3,371, according to the report. Victims in Maryland's Medicaid Program can pay as low as $1, but not all victims are eligible for that coverage, according to the report.
The pilot program, operated by the governor's crime office, would help pay for the medication and is estimated to cost at least $730,400 in the first year, increasing in the next two years.
The House version of the bill has not made its way out of its committee, while the Senate version passed unanimously on the floor on March 14 and has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday in a House committee.
Analysis of sexual assault collection evidence kits
House bill 1096, sponsored by Hettleman, and Senate bill 767, sponsored by Smith, would mandate law enforcement submit a sexual assault evidence kit to a forensic laboratory for testing within 30 days of a request by a victim.
Forensic laboratories would also be mandated to screen, test and analyze rape test kits in a "timely manner."
At a House committee hearing, Hettleman said over 6,000 kits remain untested statewide for a variety of reasons.
The House version of the bill passed unanimously on the floor on March 11 and has been assigned to a Senate committee, while the Senate version passed unanimously on the floor March 15 and has a hearing scheduled for March 27 in a House committee.