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Shaheen Lauds Senate Passage of Bipartisan Bill to Fight Rape Kit Backlog

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) lauded Senate passage of bipartisan legislation she helped introduce to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act, legislation that 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 in February by U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), the late Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). 

“The ongoing backlog of testing DNA evidence is unacceptable—it delays crimes from being solved and robs survivors of the justice they deserve,” said Shaheen. “This bipartisan legislation would help law enforcement process the evidence they need to bring justice for survivors of sexual violence. I’m pleased it passed the Senate this week and urge my House colleagues to quickly take it up so we can renew this important law.” 

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. 

In the fiscal year (FY) 2023 federal government legislation, Shaheen secured $130 million for grants under the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction program, which was $18 million more than the Department of Justice requested. In the FY 2024 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill reported out of committee, this program is again provided $130 million even though the DOJ again asked for $112 million.  

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), 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), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and the late Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). 

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 U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Shaheen has worked for years to spearhead 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.