Amid cheers, rape kit bill clears final hurdle in Georgia


A flurry of last-ditch efforts succeeded Thursday in saving a stalled bill that would require Georgia law enforcement to find and count untested sexual assault evidence.

House Bill 827 was blocked in the state Senate by state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, but vocal support from women’s advocates, victims groups and others cleared the way for the House to revive the Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act as Senate Bill 304.

The bill cleared its final hurdle just after midnight with a unanimous House vote. The chamber broke into cheers, and members from both sides of the aisle gave a rare standing ovation to the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat.

The passage of SB 304 was a race against time. An earlier version had passed the House unanimously in February, but the revived bill had to pass both chambers on the session’s final day before heading to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

It passed the House Thursday morning without opposition. During the debate, Holcolmb thanked victim rights advocates and sexual assault survivors for keeping the bill afloat.

“I’m inspired by their strength, courage and resilience,” Holcomb said. “You never quit, and this House hasn’t quit either.”

But the bill did not pass the Senate until the session’s final minutes — after legislators added language to protect crime victim rights and made other tweaks. Unterman defended herself from critics as she introduced the changes.

“Since the day I stepped in this chamber in 2002, I’ve done nothing but take care of victims,” said Unterman, who relented and voted for its passage. The amendments forced the bill back to the House for its final successful vote.

Unterman’s initial opposition to the popular bill surprised observers and made her a punch line on late-night television. But the Buford Republican dug in as the pressure mounted, declining to give it a required hearing in the House and Human Services Committee, which she heads as chairwoman.

Unterman said there was no need for a statewide bill to solve a Fulton and DeKalb county problem. Yet untested evidence has been found in other jurisdictions — including at the police department for Unterman’s home county, Gwinnett. One rough estimate made by state criminal justice experts suggested that some 1,400 kits may have gone untested in 2014 alone.

Unterman also complained that Holcomb did not attend study committee meetings she led before the session on campus sexual assault and related issues, and she said she will address rape kit legislation next year if necessary.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found last year that more than 1,400 kits were locked away untested at Grady Memorial Hospital, even though victims wanted them transferred to law enforcement. Police had failed to pick them up, and the hospital was keeping them on the mistaken belief that federal privacy regulations barred their release.

Grady, statewide hospital associations and law enforcement groups all backed Holcomb’s bill.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Georgia Politics

Why are people still racist? What science says about America's race problem.
Why are people still racist? What science says about America's race problem.

Torch-bearing white supremacists shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. Protesters and counter protesters colliding with violence and chaos. A car driven by a known Nazi sympathizer mowing down a crowd of activists. Many Americans responded to this weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, with disbelieving horror. How could this happen in...
Before Cabinet ascent, Price was Georgia’s biggest campaign spender
Before Cabinet ascent, Price was Georgia’s biggest campaign spender

Members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation raised and spent millions of dollars ahead of last year’s election, but the state’s undisputed master of the political money game was former U.S. Rep. Tom Price. The Roswell Republican spent almost $2.5 million in 2015 and 2016, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of...
Georgia congressmen spent millions while cruising to re-election
Georgia congressmen spent millions while cruising to re-election

The money went to luxury fishing trips on the Chesapeake Bay, fundraisers at D.C.’s poshest restaurants and a 75th-birthday blowout at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. There were also tickets to the Masters golf tournament and a hotel room in the Virgin Islands, not to mention a stable of high-level campaign and social media consultants. Georgia&rsquo...
Bannon out at the White House after turbulent run
Bannon out at the White House after turbulent run

Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Trump win the 2016 election by embracing their shared nationalist impulses, departed the White House on Friday after a turbulent tenure in which he shaped the fiery populism of the president’s first seven months in office. Bannon’s exit, the latest in a string of high-profile...
Georgia will change policy after complaints over notice sent to voters
Georgia will change policy after complaints over notice sent to voters

After facing a legal backlash over sending address confirmation notices to tens of thousands of voters who had moved within the county they had already registered in, Georgia has quietly decided to reverse course. State officials confirmed Friday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Georgia will no longer give those voters a 30-day deadline...
More Stories