By MARY HATHAWAY
WASHINGTON — In the midst of a fiscal crisis, usually divided Democrats and Republicans displayed a rare case of bipartisanship today on the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, an attempt to ensure that rape kits will not be backlogged.
“Democrats and Republicans identified a serious problem and they have come together to have a common sense solution,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., one of four legislators — two from each part — who co-sponsored the bill and spoke about it after its introduction today.
There are an estimated 400,000 kits currently backlogged in the United States and one major reason is a lack of funding for local police. This bill will allow local law enforcement to apply for the funds they say are needed to test every rape kit.
“Those are 400,000 victims of criminal conduct,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. “That is a number. But each one represents a real person.”
Proponents of the bill say that it would bring rapists to justice while preventing future rapes by taking dangerous criminals off the street.
“Every rapist, according to police, will attack roughly seven times,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said. “They are sick people. Each time you can make that connection and put them in jail you are preventing them from hurting other women.”
In countless cases, lawmakers complain, by the time kits are tested the statute of limitations has passed and the rapists can no longer be charged.
“I cannot think of anything more horrible that we could do to someone who has already suffered one of the worst things anyone could,” Bennet said of the backlog of rape kits.
The bill was introduced in the House this afternoon. The cosponsors of the bill all reiterated that they hope the legislation will be passed before the end of the year.
Asked how soon the House could move on the legislation, an aide to Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he was unsure.
There are only six days of legislative business left on the House schedule, but more days could be added as Congress works towards a solution on the so-called “fiscal cliff.”