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Shaheen Helps Introduce Bill to Reauthorize Debbie Smith Act, Fight Rape Kit Backlog

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) helped introduce bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act, which would provide state and local law enforcement agencies with resources to complete forensic analyses of crime scenes and untested rape kits. The legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

The Debbie Smith Act was originally signed into law in 2004 to provide local and state crime laboratories resources to end the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved crimes, analyze DNA samples and increase the capacity to process DNA in order to guard against future backlogs. Since it became law, more than 860,000 DNA cases have been processed. In addition to crime scene evidence, Debbie Smith funds are also utilized to process offender DNA samples to ensure evidence from unsolved crimes can be matched against a database of known offenders, similar to criminal fingerprint databases.

“The ongoing backlog of testing DNA evidence – including evaluating rape kits – delays crimes from being solved and puts justice out of reach for survivors of sexual violence. State and local law enforcement agencies must have the resources to efficiently process and analyze DNA evidence. That’s why I’m glad to join a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce legislation that will reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act,said Shaheen. “This bill is critical to ensuring that law enforcement agencies can evaluate evidence and act swiftly— it’s important Congress renews this law.”

Cosponsors of this legislation include Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Kennedy (R-LA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

This legislation is endorsed by Debbie Smith, the Fraternal Order of Police, Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs of America, National District Attorneys Association, Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), and Joyful Heart Foundation.

As Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Shaheen spearheads efforts to protect survivors and help them seek justice. Shaheen’s bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) – the Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act – was signed into law as part of the fiscal year (FY) 2023 national defense authorization legislation. The FY 2023 federal government funding legislation provided $10 million to launch the program under OVW. For the sixth year in a row, Shaheen successfully secured the highest funding level ever for the DOJ-administered VAWA grants programs, totaling $700 million for the OVW. This amount is a 22 percent increase from last year’s funding level and will support training officials, rape prevention programs, processing rape kits, domestic violence hotlines, women’s shelters and transitional housing support services. Last year, Senator Shaheen’s bipartisan POWER 2.0 Act with Senator Sullivan (R-AK) to reauthorize legislation that expands pro bono legal resources for victims and survivors was signed into law.